By Aaron Stiles
Music is such an important thing in life that we tend to surround ourselves with it as constantly as we can. We listen to music on the radio or to get our day started, maybe to express the way that we feel about someone.
Music not only provides ambiance for a special place or your favorite restaurant, but it also plays an important role when we are not actively thinking about it at all, as is the case in film.
Oftentimes the music of a film will be so subtle that you may not even be aware that you’re actually hearing music, yet the music speaks to you still, causing you to tense up with dread in a horror film when the low bass sound rumbles the theater floor, or pulling tears from your eyes with a soft piano in a romantic film.
Then there are films like Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut The Gift, a haunting film that demonstrates just how important music is in a film…by having hardly any at all.
The Gift utilizes silence to cause tension in the audience, something that makes the film so much more terrifying: the feeling that everything is static and calm and that it’s all too good to be true… that something is coming.
The Gift stars Jason Bateman as Simon and Rebecca Hall as Robyn, a couple who has just moved to a new and better house. We find out that Simon is in line to get a promotion at his job and that things are looking great for both of them, until a childhood peer of Simon’s named Gordo, played by Joel Edgerton, comes into their lives and brings them gifts.
Simon and Robyn start to notice Gordo is constantly coming around unannounced, something that Simon finds troubling. The film then takes a sinister turn when it is revealed that Gordo is not merely trying to reconnect with an old peer, but rather has formulated a plan for revenge.
I have personally always been a fan of Jason Bateman since I saw the film Juno in 2009. His performance in this film shows Bateman’s versatility as an actor, pulling him away from his more comedic roles and putting him not only at the forefront of a thriller, but also with a dark side that makes his performance fresh and interesting.
Rebecca Hall also demonstrates in this film that she has very sharpened acting skills perfect for a dramatic role, utilizing miniscule, almost unnoticeable facial expressions. Joel Edgerton’s performance is arguably the best performance in the film with his quiet, unsettling gaze that lingers as it pierces you, giving a strange, terrifying feeling.
Joel Edgerton not only acted as Gordo in the film, but he also wrote the screenplay and directed the film, showcasing his many talents. The film is shot with a very dark composition throughout, with somber, dark lighting that is moody during the day, and haunting at night. The cinematography in the film is very fresh and subtle, very clean and simple at first glance, but when you pay more attention, you find that Edgerton uses slow shots around corners, creating suspense as well as wide shots and close ups with steady cameras.
Edgerton also made the decision to include the theme of glass throughout the whole film, shooting through glass and using it as a device for mood and space, from props to using the glass as a portal for more suspense and even some very great surprises.
The Gift has extremely compelling and interesting characters including even some of the minor characters in the film. The film feels very simple and at times maybe too clean and perfect for a thriller movie. But when you look closely you see that this is done on purpose… Edgerton wants you to see the world as clean and possibly hopeful and maybe a little bright, but that these things can change in an instant, and even though things look good on the outside, the damage could be very deep.
The Gift deals with how our mistakes catch up to us from the past, no matter how small and that when we make a decision that affects someone, it can be lasting and that may not always be a good thing.
The Gift is packed with awesome performances, great visuals, and an extremely entertaining, harrowing, and impressive story that has a twist ending that will make a lasting impression on you and have you thinking for days afterword. The Gift is an example of a filmmaker who knows exactly what kind of film that he wanted to make, and carried it from pre-production to post-production all on his own and made a really good film.
I can’t wait for Edgerton’s next work, because I’m sure that his skills can only get better from here.