Year Released: 2015
Director: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
(R, 108 minutes)
Genre: Mystery and Suspense
“You may be done with the past, but the past isn’t done with you.” Gordon "Gordo" Moseley
Nothing is quite what it seems in this thriller. Of course, the old high school friend, with his goatee and Beatles style hair, puts us on alert at once. But the handsome couple that end up hosting this unwelcome guest have their secrets as well.
And it is to the credit of Joel Edgerton, who wrote, directed, and stars in this film, that the secrets are parceled out so sparingly that it keeps the audience both hungry and off balance, just as he wants us.
Edgerton plays with the audience just as his character Gordon plays with his old high school classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his lovely wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). He hits many of the standard stalker notes, only to mute them without warning. The adorable family dog goes missing and we remember the stewed little bunny from Fatal Attraction. A shower scene evokes memories of Hitchcock’s Psycho.
And Robyn seems to miss the bad vibes everyone else has about Gordon or Gordo, as Simon calls him. When he shows up unexpectedly in the middle of the day asking for Simon, who obviously is at work, she doesn’t usher him off with a few polite words, but actually invites him in their new house for a brief tour. And then asks him to stay for dinner. One very long and uncomfortable dinner that reminds us of that old Saturday Night Live skit about the guest who refuses to leave.
He’s not creepy, just socially awkward, as she is at times, Robyn insists. But just when you think she is that stock horror character who insists on going down those creaky steps to the dark cellar, we begin to see her point of view.
Maybe Gordo’s innocuous, “Let bygones be bygones” message has some merit. Especially when Simon refuses to explain what in his past may have triggered that phrase.
The put upon victim may have earned his fate, just as happens in the 2005 French film Cache, which Edgerton acknowledges as a great influence.
In The Gift, an expensive bottle of wine lands on Simon and Robyn’s doorstep, along with a note from Gordo with a little smiley face, welcoming them to their new house. A few prickles go up our spines here, since they had not given him their address, but Edgerton’s opening is more subtle and perhaps more insidious than the first breach in Cache as described here:
You know that uneasy feeling you get when you have lost your house keys, that vague anxiety you experience after a hang up phone call? Nothing directly menacing, but somehow you feel vulnerable, as if that closed window to your world has just opened a crack.
Which is exactly how Georges (Daniel Auteuil) and his wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) feel when they receive a videotape of the outside of their tidy Paris apartment. There’s not much on it except the occasional comings and goings of the residents. In fact, it has the cinematic blandness of the surveillance tape in your local parking garage, except that this “security” tape offers none. More tapes follow, as well as some simplistic drawings of bloody chickens and a child’s face smeared with a circle of blood.
Then there is the Hollywood Hills house itself. Wrapped in glass to capture the panoramic view, it feels exposed and vulnerable. There are hardly any curtains to hide behind when someone unwelcome shows up at the door. And Eadgerton shoots quite a few scenes through glass, almost as if he is examining his cast “like bugs under a microscope,” as one critic notes.
Putting his breath to a glass door, Simon draws a little heart on it for Robyn. It is sweet and little cloying as well, juvenile in the way of the happy faces on Gord0’s notes. Do both these males share some arrested development, we wonder.
But the pleasant surprise is that the real shocks here are psychological not bloody, which was a relief after sitting through a slew of creepy previews steeped in the red stuff. (The previews, I have found, usually mirror the featured attraction to follow.) Like most of Hitchcock, it is suspense and tension that capture us in The Gift. A slow burn instead of white-hot coals, but just as withering. What is really hacked to pieces here is love and loyalty, not bodies and bones.
Which is what I guess Gone Girl was attempting to do in its slick, sexed up, and superficial way. But it lost its way on a twisted path too bloody and convoluted.
Less is more in The Gift, which resonates because the characters drive the action instead of the other way around.
Given the rather neurotic trio who anchor this thriller, which takes place in the luxurious Hollywood Hills, I have chosen just the right recipe, Hollywood Hills Fruit Salad. Not only is it perfect for this hot and sultry weather, all those berry are in season now and at their best. But most of all, it captures the loopy quality of all the main players.
Hollywood Hills Fruit Salad Recipe
2 cup blueberries
1 1/2 cup raspberries
1 1/2 cup blackberries
*2 to 3 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute
1 star fruit, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped fine
Mix ginger and sugar in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes.
Layer berries in a serving bowl.
Sprinkle the sugar/ginger crystals over fruit.
Arrange star fruit on top and serve.
Toss and serve.
* I changed the recipe from simple syrup to sugar alone for convenience. You can link to the recipe site to find simple syrup if you like.