Friday, August 7, 2015

"The Gift (2015)": Kept On Giving Until It Gave Too Much

Now In Theaters
Suspense films are notoriously difficult to review.  Often their appeal relies upon the execution of their plot twists, and as a critic I find it all too tempting to reveal those twists at the expense of ruining the film for you.  So let’s start here: is The Gift a good movie?  Yes… mostly.  But also not really in one major respect that I cannot tell you about.  Is The Gift worth seeing?  Yes!  …Mostly.  Except for the last five minutes or so.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to a quiet suburban town, away from their established life in Chicago.  While out buying home furnishings, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed this film), a former high school classmate of Simon’s.  After an awkward first encounter, Gordo begins to leave gifts at Simon’s home, and as the couple begin to interact with Gordo, it starts to become clear that Simon and Gordo have more history than first appearances would suggest.  Simon begins calling Gordo a weirdo behind his back, and as the relationship deteriorates, Robyn begins to feel haunted by the apparent specter of Gordo around every corner.

Edgerton makes an astounding first turn as a director, really nailing the sense of Hitchcockian dread that has become emblematic of the suspense thriller genre.  Information is sparingly and tantalizingly provided to the audience, with always another mystery just out of reach, and while some jump scares are present, they are used sparingly for maximum effect.  Edgerton's Gordo walks a fine line between sympathetic and potentially sinister that is uncomfortable in the best possible way, and Bateman plays the same sort of egocentric ass that he usually plays in comedic roles, but marvelously strips away any sort of potential for a laugh track.  The real star, though, is Hall as Robyn, who plays with paranoia and fear in a way that is equal parts audience surrogate and believable anxiety, and she portrays a realistic female character that lesser writing would have reduced to a perpetually terrified housewife.

Alas, I also have to tell you what this film does wrong, and it unfortunately all takes place in the twist climax.  The thematic underpinnings of the film reach their conclusion with about five minutes still left in the runtime, and yet those five minutes completely destroy all the good will that had been building until that point.  Robyn’s character is effectively sidelined and the climactic exchange between Simon and Gordo, while superficially satisfying, feels more and more idiotic the more one thinks about it.

Until that point, though, it is an excellently crafted film; I would go so far as to say it is a stronger film without that last five minute scene added on.  The film already has a climax built into its narrative, and I can picture the perfect moment to walk out of the theater to preserve the film as excellent so that one need not be exposed to the stupidity of the actual climax.  However, a film must be judged as a whole, and an otherwise excellent film is tainted by its twist ending.  Go and see it (especially considering it deserves your money more than a certain other film out this weekend), but don’t be surprised if the ending leaves a sour taste in your mouth.

What other films have been ruined by their final moments?  Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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