Jason Bateman steps into a thriller with a grand twist

The Gift is a confident thriller – confident in the storytelling process, confident in the characters, and confident enough to seek a brutal, cruel twist ending which seals this upper middle class story.

It’s also film of doubt. As much as it builds characters and a backstory, Gift is smart to establish uneasiness. The process of spilling details is meandering and brooding; it’s what The Gift needs. Thriller techniques and tropes are toyed with. A window in view could have a creepy stalker in the background. Maybe it won’t. The Gift builds uneasy trust, a sharp theme which follows the piece through to its grand conclusion.

That confidence is critical. At times, The Gift is slow, even torturous. That’s the sure hand of filmmaking. Joel Edgerton writes, directs, and co-stars playing Gordo, a social oddball looking to reconnect with his high school classmate Simon (Jason Bateman). Simple, until The Gift is elevated by its character complexities.

The Gift plays with perception. It asks who people are, what they’ve done, and makes them answer for their secrets. Much of the film is scornful toward society, but becomes a master class in suspenseful pay off. The Gift has a remarkable placid energy, using brooding cinematography to sell its callous narrative.

What’s important is The Gift never offers a safe zone. Simon’s wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) has confidence, then not. Then she’s anxious. Then sleepless. But then turned in her certainty about Gordo. The Gift has a counter to each of its situations – there always exists the potential for something to be or go wrong. It’s a constant tease, overflowing with ambiguity regarding character status as it builds an immense audience distrust.

The twist ending is as horrifying in its possibilities as any blood-and-guts hatchet killer flick.

Sharp camera moves, silent hallways, stuck driveway gates; insecure moments which define horror films, but Gift is not a slasher or a ghost story. Yet, it earns classification, a story of emotional and mental torment extended for the distance. The conclusion is as horrifying in its possibilities as any blood-and-guts hatchet killer flick.

The greatest of The Gift’s tricks is transferring uncertainty onto the audience. Closure would be a release. This movie purposefully has none. The result of waiting and processing information is not images draped in sunshine – cinematography is droll, cloudy, and misty – but the shared feeling of suspicion with those key characters who chose to play their games. The comeuppance is hideous, yet fictionally satisfying. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]

Couples time @ 23:11

Cinematographer Eduard Grau does interesting things with The Gift. The movie was shot digitally and feels like a raw feed from the camera. Black levels are never present. The Gift reaches down to a stale gray. Depth is fully sacrificed for the sake of drawing any energy away from the visual space.

Color only follows the same path. Drained of flesh tones and any bright primary color, The Gift favors dry blues. Desaturated in an extreme sense, this movie could pass for monochrome.

Further, noise is added over every shot. At times, it’s thick enough to be distracting and carries an obnoxious, even forceful quality. This noise cannot pass for grain. Universal’s Blu-ray encode at least holds up under the assault.

Consider the feature dulled. That covers the expanse of these visuals. Shots feed onto the screen with a detail-eating haziness, done without consideration for fidelity. But a handful of close-ups will reveal definition in the typical sense. Even after all of this somewhat mild imagery, The Gift still has a pleasing artistic slant. The typical intangibles do not apply. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

Moody as it can be, the movie rarely uses audio to establish tension. The score is droning with a light drop into the low-end. Few tricks are played. The Gift won’t need them. Dialog is well balanced in the center without motion.

In the final five minutes, audio breaks free, sending a helicopter swirling about the soundfield and making voices pass through the added channels. While exaggerated, there is plenty of life in those closing moments. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]

An alternate ending removes the audience/character shared ambiguity by providing clear answers. That’s no fun, which is why Joel Edgerton is there to introduce this deleted scene and say the same. Four other deleted scenes (11:38) have commentary, as does the feature itself, again with Edgerton. The two featurettes are worthless, Karma for Bullies and The Darker Side of Jason Bateman. At three minutes (combined) they’re shorter than the trailer. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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