The Gift (2015)
These days we’re not so frightened by ghosts and monsters, but we all fear false knowledge: the possibility that the person we know and love is really someone very different. Like, what if your partner really was a cruel tormentor and bully at school? Enter the psychological thriller, to taunt us with the big reveal that can pull the carpet from under our emotional lives. The Gift does this slowly and brilliantly.
The storyline is simple. Take-no-prisoners corporate-type Simon and his anxious wife Robyn have just acquired some nice property in a nice Los Angeles neighbourhood and they bump into one of Simon’s old schoolmates, Gordo. That’s cordial enough, but Gordo keeps inviting himself into their lives, first with house-warming gifts then with dinners and so on. Simon never liked the “weirdo” but Robyn is taken by his needy charms, and once the rift is set in motion, the tension continues to rise as Gordo keeps re-surfacing where Simon does not want him. The three-way acting is superbly taut, with Simon’s arrogance, Robyn’s fears and Gordo’s inexplicable presence linked as if by a high-tension wire that keeps shifting in the wind. We do not know who is the bad guy and who is the good. And Gordo’s offer to “let bygones be bygones” keeps ringing in our ears.
Effective psychological thrillers employ elementary principles of knowledge deprivation and disorientation, and this film gives no clear signal about who we can trust. The atmosphere of threat and uncertainty is accentuated by noir lighting, staccato camerawork, and close-up framing on widened eyes that spell fear. It keeps twisting and turning in unexpected directions, pulling the hidden story together and leading Robyn towards the big reveal. Like in all great thrillers we are not sure until the last few seconds and a finale that Hitchcock would have loved.
Director: Joel Egerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton