“Thriller” shouldn’t be defined as “the level below horror on a scale of frightening-ness.” Thrillers should thrill. There are many ways this can happen—one, it seems, is to tediously feed the viewer scare-lite material for an hour and twenty minutes, and then fling wide the flood gates of terror. You get the thrill, but you have to wait for it.
Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut feature, The Gift, follows married couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) as an old friend from Simon’s past, Gordo (Edgerton), begins to show up unexpectedly and often, leaving multiple gifts for his new neighbors. The gifts themselves aren’t actually mysterious (wine, a list of nearby services, and so on). But they are abundant, and Simon becomes unnerved.
The Gift’s suspense hinges on whether or not Gordo is as innocuous as he first appears. Even if you skip the trailer (as I did, for surprise-preserving purposes), you’re confronted with the poster at the theater entrance: Gordo is holding a box. The tagline is “Not every gift is welcome.” Okay.
We open on the married couple checking out an empty house, talking about a “new start.” Eerie music is already playing. The terror tenor will not rise above this level for another hour. That’s how long it takes before Robyn starts to catch on. But while this bit seems pretty obvious the first time the couple haplessly lets Gordo stay for dinner, it’s played as if it’s a big reveal.
The first half of the film seems to leave us thinking that Gordo’s presence is a catalyst to make the couple confront the person to whom they’re really married—a button-pusher for ...1
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