If you're a fan of movies, it's hard to escape the constant hype and expectations of upcoming films. We're constantly exposed to barrage that's posts, tweets, and comments about what we can expect. It's easier than ever to see the trailers for upcoming films; both from big studios and smaller independent pictures. This sea of hype makes it all the better when a new film flies under the radar. It truly is a rare treat when you can go in cold, and be really impressed with the a new film.
I wasn't familiar with The Gift at all. I hadn't heard of the movie until a friend suggested that we see it a week beforehand. I saw half a TV commercial in the following week, and went in with very low knowledge or expectation. I was really impressed with the result. Its well put together and very effective.
Warning: The following is a spoiler filled discussion of The Gift. If you haven't seen it, You should check it out. Come back later.
This movie is well laid out, well executed, and a thrilling experience. The Gift builds tension with so many setups that either pay off with dire consequences, or serve as red herrings that keep us on the edge of our seat. This could've been a rather simple and conventional story, but felt nothing like that. What's more, I never saw that ending coming. Like Robyn, you begin to believe theories, then doubt them as other evidence comes to light. We're left with the dark ending; one that can be twisted and pondered for some time. I found it unsettling, both in terms of content and focus. For all of the damage that Gordo may have just caused, our primary focus is on Simon. As important as it may be to see all of Simon's chickens coming home to roost, the greater crimes have been committed at the expense of Robyn. Maybe things would look different upon a second viewing, but she seemed to be the third focus of that finale. Her injustice seemed to be minimized. That has been the hardest thing for me to let go. Perhaps that's the intention. Perhaps if we are paying attention we realize that the true horror was offscreen, and how much pain could be left for our characters.
But let's set that aside and focus on what I enjoyed.
The Gift is supported with three great performances from its main actors. Jason Bateman is well-cast as Simon, as we accept him as a good guy from the start. Like Robyn, it takes us time to see him for the liar that he is. We just don't see how malicious he can be. Rebecca Hall also gives a great performance, quickly leading us to think that something else's going on, even if were not sure what. Joel Edgerton's Gordo is just creepy enough to be seen as a threat, Yet innocent enough to cast doubts.
I didn't realize until the end credits just how much credit Joel Edgerton deserved for this movie. I have to tip my hat to him for writing, directing, and starring in this movie. While I'd surely seen him before, I wasn't well aware of his work. This is a stelar writing and directing achievement. The items that I appreciate the most about this film, are likely due to his influence. The Gift has a great story that unfolds in unexpected ways. You can see the creativity in the plot, as well as the choices made and how it is shown onscreen. At various times in the movie, I thought I knew what was going on; but I was kept guessing and often went back-and-forth. I'm excited to see what Joel does next.
One of the more interesting experiences for me personally was the crowd that I saw this movie with. I'm a fan of seeing movies on opening weekend. Its usually the only time that you can experience a movie with the decent-sized crowd. I remember the loud cheers of the crowd during an opening night showing of Spider-Man 2, or the applause that has followed every showing of the trailer for The Force Awakens. The Gift provided another one of those moments with that shower scene. Now, a cat–in-the-cubbard jump scare like that feels like a cheat to me, especially as part of a dream. However, not only does that scene release some of the tension in the slowly building story, it led to one of the biggest crowd screams that I've ever heard. My theater interrupted with shrieking. This crowd simply lost it when we saw those eyes staring out of the other side of that shower door.
That's not to say my theater experience was perfect. This night at the movies provided a good reminder for me of what to appreciate in theater etiquette. I tend to have little patience for whispers, commenting on the movie, or the glow of someone checking their cell phone. I don't encounter it too often, but there usually seems to be one in every crowd. That evening, I was reminded that there're people who go to see movies besides nerds like me. While I appreciate movies with adults focused on more mature topics and themes, my theater–going experiences are usually reserved for special effects heavy superhero films and blockbuster action movies. That's partially the escapism that I enjoy, as well as making the most of the massive screen and sound system. I catch up with everything else at home. We all talk about movies that are worth seeing in theaters, But I forget that means different things to different people. I often think that I can skip a comedy and catch up later, but it's hard to catch up with the zeitgeist and contagiousness seeing a breakout comedy in theaters. In the same way, it had been a while since I've sat in the theater with grown adults who are looking for something different that appealed to them. This group didn't put theater going on such a pedestal. They commented at the screen, as well as the strangers next to them. They came to have a good time, and they had it. It served as a good reminder for me that there's no wrong way to watch a movie, just different preferences.
All in all, The Gift supplied a great night at the movies and an excellent debut. I'm excited to see what Joel Edgerton does next, and I'm fortunate to have good friends that made sure I saw this.