A Big Surprise Inside | The Gift

In Daniel Portuondo by Daniel Portuondo1 Comment

Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift” was, despite its impressive ratings, never a blip on my radar. Bearing an ominous cinematic poster, the film boasted a suspenseful experience where an old high school acquaintance begins to cross the social threshold of acceptable and into obsessive and unwelcome visitations, leaving overtly expensive and exaggerated presents at their doorstep. The protagonists, Simon and Robyn Callem, soon find themselves under the threat of unpredictability and perpetual panic as the colleague turned psycho menaces the sanctity of their new home. That is, at least, what the trailer tells us to expect. The truth behind the film is much more enticing. Though it initially promises a standard suspense film, “The Gift” was, much like its title suggests, an unexpected surprise loaded with intricate characters and an increasingly nerve-racking plot.
With his extensive laundry list of comedies from Horrible Bosses and Identity Thief to Arrested Development, Jason Bateman is the last person to belong in a suspense film. That’s what I ever so wrongly assumed. Portraying the husband Simon, Bateman delivers a spine-tingling performance. The character becomes a hinge for a constantly evolving plot ripe with twists and turns. It is the quality of unpredictability and dynamic storytelling that distinguishes this film from other suspenseful competitors. It successfully attaches itself to reality, not in plot, but in theme and character development. No instance in history or in any of our lives can be said to have clashes where a side is entirely good and its opposition entirely evil. There is, in the movie as there is in life, no method of anticipation, which is, of course, a merited trait in a suspense film. Characters fluctuate from protagonist to antagonist, and suddenly you realize that you don’t know whose side you’re on.
Perhaps this uniqueness is born out of the films deviation from the standard. For the most part, contemporary fictional plot lines are comprised of a few basic relationships between good guys and bad guys. The most generic version portrays the scrupulous hero defeating the corrupt, malignant villain atop his or her moral high ground, as is found in superhero films. Other times, the villain receives enlightenment, and relinquishes his dastardly personality, best depicted in the sixth Star Wars film in which balance was restored to the force thanks to Darth Vader’s final sacrifice (and the great prophecy that unfolded over the entirety of the series was fulfilled for a grand total of about two seconds before the dark side was up and at it again in The Force Awakens). More uncommon are stories in which there is no villain or hero, but a blurred line of characters intermingling with the world. This can be found oftentimes in romance or philosophical films. “The Gift” nabs aspects from all of these styles and creates its own original amalgamation so that, in being all these versions, it is none of them. It convinces the viewer that the outcome is predictable, then suddenly shifts the entire plot around a sharp turn, leaving the audience in a jaw-dropping daze. The grand finale culminates all of the surprises into a horrific plot twist, a guaranteed electric shock that will leave viewers divided into separate schools of thought. Though the easiest route would be to simply shift bad guys to the bad side, and good guys to the good side, I encourage viewers to play the cinematic Supreme Court and attempt to decide which side merits more punishment. Please note, however, “The Gift”, while avoiding blatantly graphic content, does contain several strong themes and implications that may be disturbing to some.

Daniel Portuondo
Contributing Writer and Editor
Missing the glory days of Spielberg movies. Finished a full season of 24 in less than a day.


  1. I have not seen this movie yet but after reading yr article I will. Pretty soon.
    Somehow you’ve got me and can not wait to see it!
    I just “want to play the cinematic Supreme Court and attempt to decide which side merits more punishment”

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