Anybody else get a strange sense of déjà vu with “The Gift”?
I ask this because, after looking around at some of the critical responses to this film, as well as Joel Edgerton’s inspiration for writing and directing this film, it always feels like there is one film missing. A key film that “The Gift” owes most of its success to, whether the filmmakers knew it or not. That movie is “Gone Girl.”
“The Gift” desperately wants to recapture the success and acclaim of David Fincher’s dark marriage thriller. “Gone Girl” was a sleeper hit from 2014, as it snuck up and surprised everyone with its roller coaster ride of emotions, where you were never too sure if these characters were good, bad or misunderstood people. With tight writing to keep up the mystery and nerve-wracking performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike, there was never a dull moment in “Gone Girl.”
I get an equal feeling with “The Gift,” though not as strong in the performance department. It is so strange though that Edgerton would say the films of Alfred Hitchcock and “Fatal Attraction” were his biggest inspiration in creating this thriller, yet never mention “Gone Girl.” I won’t hold it against this film though, since “The Gift” does do many things differently, such as adding a middle man to make the past seem more prevalent.
Simon and Robyn Callen (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) are a married couple who have moved from Chicago to the Los Angeles area after Simon was hired on to a large business firm. The couple run in to an old friend of Simon’s while in the city, Gordon Moseley (Joel Edgerton), a kind but socially awkward guy who is awfully nice to Robyn. Gordon finds their address, even though they didn’t tell him, and he leaves several gifts on their doorstep including flowers and Gift Boxes, much to the irritation of Simon. Robyn wonders why Simon is acting this way, but Simon is unwilling to divulge his past to her, hiding something that Gordo “The Weirdo” is now obsessed with.
Much like “Gone Girl,” it is difficult to discuss “The Gift” without giving away the many twists and turns throughout the film.
The driving force behind the film are the characters’ obsession with the past. Gordon lives in the past, unable to move on and get over what happened because the world will not let him forget what happened. It painted such a sour image of him that this led Gordon to a criminal record and his family disowning him.
Simon, despite his insistence that he has moved on and made peace with himself over the incident, has not changed since then. He lives in his own world of success, and seems to forget the people he stepped over to get to this point.
Early on, Gordon talks about what Simon was like in high school. He won class president, but had the campaign slogan of “Simon Says!” He would use this slogan to make demands of what he thought the school needed, but Gordon is awfully specific about what Simon wanted, like more hours for sports. I think this has less to do with what Simon thought the school wanted and more what he wanted.
After we learn about Simon’s behavior as a kid, he probably did some terrible things to get into the class president position.
Gordon believes that the past is what makes us who we are, and that it impossible to move on from it without forgetting who you are. Simon believes the past is behind us and that we should never have to apologize for a terrible act we did years ago, even if its repercussions are still being felt today.
Or, as Gordon says, “You may be done with the past, but the past is not done with you.”
My biggest complaint with “The Gift” is that most of the thriller bits are cliché and predictable. Outside of the last twenty minutes, the film acts like your typical stalker mystery, where Robyn paces around her new and vast house afraid that Gordon has sneaked peaks at her when she least expects it.
There are even jump scares in this film, when those did not need to be there. As we’ve discussed before, jump scares are not scary but startling – the equivalent of yelling “Boo!” when no one expected you to. Several people who saw “The Gift” with me screamed when these scares happened, but were followed by laughter. As if to say, “I shouldn’t have had to do that for this film. Screaming doesn’t belong here.”
Robyn is a welcomed addition to the film, where she takes an active role finding out what happened that made Gordon so strange, and a middle ground between Simon’s anger and Gordon’s obsession. She sees Gordon as a misunderstood misfit and wants to set things right, but agrees with Simon on Gordon being creepy and unpleasant to be around.
She is the biggest change from the “Gone Girl” storyline, acting as a mediator between two extremes. It is too bad that there were not many dynamic character changes between these three characters, aside from a revelation that comes two-thirds through the film. These characters remain stagnant, who refuse to budge on their positions with the past.
This makes “The Gift” far less of the emotional ride Edgerton was going for. Parts of the film work, especially the dialogue between Simon and Gordon as well as Robyn’s role throughout the film. Rebecca Hall is in nearly every scene and she nails it every time. But other times, especially early on, are cliché and unnecessary. The ending makes the movie all worth it, but I just wish it didn’t feel like “Gone Girl” until that point.
Final Grade: B-