Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple who have just moved into a nice new house that they can now afford with his big bucks salary, and now they are trying for a child. Robyn did get pregnant before, but she miscarried, so she’s touchy about the subject, though her husband is optimistic that it will all work out; then someone enters their lives which takes their mind off their baby issues as when they are in a department store Simon is approached by Gordo (Joel Edgerton), an old schoolfriend from a good twenty years or so before who he has not seen in the time since. Although he seems nice enough to Robyn, Simon is more wary – could there be more in their past than he is admitting?
The Gift was a movie that came in like one of those nuclear family under threat movies, or at least a couple under threat movie, from the late nineteen-eighties or nineties then turned out to have something very serious to tell us about human behaviour under the guise of a thriller. It was created by actor Edgerton who gave himself a supporting role, yet a key one nevertheless, as well as making his directorial debut from his own screenplay, crafting a mood coolly detached until the big reveal at the end of the movie, whereupon the stakes had been considerably raised and the purpose was evidently to set up the experience as a talking point as much as it had been for a story of entertainment.
It certainly got audiences talking, even self-examining in many cases as to how they could justify how they had treated people in their lives, not just the ones they were nice to but the ones they preferred to pick on as part of the social pecking order which to salve their consciences made it appear as if it was perfectly fine to victimise should they be able to justify it with that dreaded mindset, “They were asking for it therefore they deserved it.” This rendered them the hero in their own narrative and it would take a real jolt to wake them up to the fact they were actually the villain, which was where Edgerton rather confused matters by opening out this sadly all too familiar social situation when nobody came out of his plot looking very good.
This posited a no one is innocent take on the issue of bullying, either from those who carried out the acts, from those who stood by and allowed it to happen, or from those who were the victims and sought to redress the balance as best they could with methods that may not be the healthiest or most moral around and was undoubtedly provocative, in the context of suspense operated on a very effective guessing game that ultimately amounted to leaving the viewer to judge who was worst in this scenario. There was a particularly nasty undercurrent running through The Gift that you should really have expected in this subject, yet made for an uneasy watch, as you imagine was what the director was hoping for all along.
As this unfolded, shifting the ground from under those who thought they were comfortable in their point of view, Edgerton ensured even those of us observing were not immune from the pointing finger of accusation, as while we were intended to condemn what we saw, there was also the suspicion that we were going to be on one side of the debate or the other, and neither was a pretty place to be. As Gordo invites himself back into Simon’s world, he exposed the sham that was polite society by revealing everyone has an ulterior motive, whether that be the day to day underlining of where you believe yourself to be in relation to others or more seriously going to great lengths to upset that section you find yourself in by aspiration or contrivance of others, so much so that we start to believe someone in this film is capable of murder. What they are capable is more turning people into monsters, justifying their persecution from whatever perspective and exposing the ghastly underbelly of dog eat dog culture. Bateman had the juiciest role here, but everyone was working very well in a film that deliberately set out to unnerve, even disgust, a profoundly misanthropic effort. Music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans.