Ambitious, upwardly mobile Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) return to the former's old California stomping grounds when he scores a job with a billion-dollar company (with an even more lucrative promotion in the offing). Only now they can afford to move into a new and luxuriously-appointed home... why, things just couldn't be better, could they?
Oh, hell, you saw the trailer. Actor Joel Edgerton not only stars as "Gordo," a high-school... um... acquaintance of Simon's, but also debuted as writer/director of THE GIFT. Long story short, Gordo just happens to be at the right department store at the right time to overhear Simon's address, so Simon's awkward attempt at "hello, goodbye" isn't going to cut it. The socially awkward (to put it mildly) Gordo seems to just want to be friends, but Simon's out-and-out contempt for somebody he thought he'd heard the last of twenty years ago, of course, just makes the uninvited guest all the more persistent...
While things certainly do get more interesting later on, the opening half of THE GIFT had me rolling my eyes and muttering that I could have written the script on a cocktail napkin. All we REALLY want to know is exactly WHAT Simon did to Gordo all those years ago in high school (was he a typical schoolyard bully or did it go farther?), but we have to get through all of the obligatory FATAL ATTRACTION games before we get to the meat of the story (though we're spared one awful moment I took for granted). And even though they used two very different trailer campaigns to sell this film, they still managed to avoid conveying plenty. The film actually focuses on Robyn at least as much as the two presumed antagonists, and I lost count of the number of times they hammered home the point that she and Simon are "trying to start a family" in the first half hour of the film alone. Why, the next door neighbor even has a crying baby of her own and that prompts extreme reactions from Robyn, who's still trying to get over a previous family trauma... seriously, they spend so much time driving the "baby" business home that I almost forgot what movie I was supposed to be watching... no wonder they kept that element completely out of the trailers, as I probably would have ended up skipping this one had I known!
Anyhow. The film is certainly well-acted and contains a couple of major jumps (but I'm sorry, even Snuggles the Bear would make you jump if the filmmakers accompanied his appearance with the noise of a nuclear cannon), and the sting in the tail is genuinely fitting and effective. It 'works" for all that, and yet the film still left me feeling like I'd just swum through something that left a slimy residue.
And I'm afraid that the only way I can truly explain that feeling is to get into SPOILER territory, so if you're planning to see THE GIFT, just stop reading now.
Sure, Simon's a bullying S.O.B. who truly and richly deserves his comeuppance. But he brings most of his downfall on himself because his behavior never changed... he essentially does himself in without Gordo's help. Gordo's ultimately just there to rub in some extra salt... his scheme is certainly disturbing, but he would have had his karmic revenge all the same...
Even if I wanted to accept this as a vicarious revenge fantasy against all bullies (the movie certainly invited me to take it personally), I'd turn it down because Gordo also does reprehensible things to people who've done him no harm whatsoever.
Ultimately, there's nobody to root for here, and the one character you actually care about you can only feel sorry for. Not my idea of a satisfying thriller.
Oh, and if you dream that you're in the shower, do you tend to dream of the camera zooming in slowly towards the door... from the outside?
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