The Gift

“In approximately 12 hours from writing this, I’ll be on a plane to Disney World! Except by the time this posts, I’ll have been back for a couple days. C’est la vie.

Are you tired of my long rambling opening paragraphs about how I was gonna see one movie and then didn’t, yadda yadda yadda? Yeah, just skip ahead then. Okay so with an early Saturday flight and not returning until Thur, I realized that if I wanted to get in a movie this weekend, I’d have to forgo my evening yoga class (taking the early morning one instead) and see something then. Maybe two somethings, but I’d still need to get home and pack. Originally Fantastic Four was the obvious choice (especially once I had plans for the advance of Ricki and the Flash). Then a friend emailed me that Dark Places (which I’d promised to see with her) was opening this weekend. Well it sorta opened. The one screening in Boston was at a wicked strange and inconvenient time. I gave her the option of an alternative movie, with the possibility of Dark Places later. The options were Fantastic Four or The Gift.

When I’d first seen trailers for The Gift, I thought it looked kinda cool, but something felt like it was a little weak. And the August release didn’t really boost my confidence. Then a few days ago, I saw star Jason Bateman on Jimmy Kimmel and Kimmel mentioned The Gift had a 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes. Huh, wha? I checked and yes it did at the time, but only a handful of reviews were in. As the week progressed, Fantastic Four started to get worse and worse buzz (the consensus seems to be that it’s a lot of build up for no payoff, we’ll see next week), and The Gift got better and better, culminating with a 91% certified fresh today. Certified being a distinction to indicate that they had met a quota of reviews to actually draw reliable conclusions. Thankfully my buddy was also apprehensive of Four (seriously, why does this movie exist?), so we went with The Gift.

I can only remember twice before (Saw and Oldboy, there may have been others I’ve forgotten) seeing a movie and feeling physically shaken up, heart pounding, adrenaline pumping, hardly able to formulate a thought and too affected to want to leave my seat. I had that same reaction to The Gift and I absolutely did not anticipate anything like that.

Jason Bateman’s Simon (playing a bit against type, which was a wonderful treat) moves near his old hometown with wife Robin (Rebecca Hall). A chance encounter reunites him with Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed–both of which he should do again and often!), a former classmate, who’s always been a little off. Interactions with Gordo get stranger, and as the truth about what Simon and Gordo’s relationship was as teens starts to emerge, Robin begins to fear Gordo, who seems to have a bit too much of a fascination with her. That’s as far as I’ll go into the details of the story, but things twist and turn back and forth until you don’t know who’s telling the truth, who’s lying, who’s well intentioned, and who’s malicious, all of it ultimately leaving you with the question of how well you can ever really know someone.

I was so completely absorbed in the film. About an hour passed before I even remembered I had a friend sitting next to me, who after the film reassured me that she’d had a similar reaction. The suspense was incredible and astonishing in its simplicity. No flashy affects, no over the top performances, just a subtle and subversive thriller.

And of course, I had another layer added on from some of the set up. Like Simon, I left my hometown and never looked back. Yet like Gordo, I was bullied and tormented all throughout high school. It just messed with my head that much more, seeing how I could relate to both and neither.

Oh and what also upped the intensity was how the timing of startling events in the film lined up perfectly (or imperfectly, depending on how you see it) with events in the auditorium. Right as things were really getting going, someone ran down the stairs from the back of the room to tell off some guy in the front section who was tooling around on his phone. Especially in light of recent tragic events at the movies, I was worried that it would escalate. (Side note: the part that was most unbelievable about that exchange was how the lady in the row ahead of me was defending phone person’s actions). Later someone quickly dashed up the stairs and were quickly followed by a really loud crash on screen. It took me a minute to register what happened, as my first thought was that it was someone going after the phone scolder.

I’m sure if I sat here and thought hard enough, I’d find some flaws, but at the moment, nothing’s really jumping out at me. I really hope that people discover this film and encourage the excellent film making on display here. Despite how often I go to the movies, I don’t often find something so visceral and affecting, so if any of this recap appeals to you, I highly suggest you check this out. Now excuse me, I think I need a couple of shots of jager to calm my nerves.

The Gift – \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/”

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