Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Top Ten Films of 2015: #4


I keep thinking back to Joel Edgerton's brilliant "The Gift," a psychological thriller that held us rapt in its thrall, consistently upending expectations and keeping us guessing about the nature, motivation and troubled past of its three primary characters. Married couple Robyn (Rebecca Hall), an interior designer, and Simon (Jason Bateman), a tech sales exec, leave Chicago for his new job in L.A., where they buy a glass-walled home in the hills. Shopping for furniture at a mall, they're accosted by Gordon Mosley (Edgerton), who reminds Simon they went to high school together. "Gordo?" Simon asks, Bateman's face registering a flicker of disquiet at the memory.

When Robyn and Simon return home, Gordon, who overheard Simon tell the clerk his new address, has left a bottle of wine at their door. He begins showing up, always when Robyn is home alone, always bearing gifts and barely plausible excuses for his visits. Robyn invites him to dinner at their place, an offer he reciprocates in a scene that quickly ceases to go according to plan. And here I will refrain from revealing more of the plot, as you are likely filling in blanks with memories of films from "Caché" and "Chuck & Buck" to "Oldboy," "Unlawful Entry," and "With a Friend Like Harry…"

What's so wonderful about "The Gift" is that it forges its own path, using our built-in biases against us to heighten our displacement as we realize who is the real villain, whom we should genuinely fear. Edgerton throws in two big jump-scares (the latter hilariously effective), both relatively early - enough to keep us on edge the rest of the way. But "The Gift" is not a horror movie; it's a character study wearing genre trappings. Regular readers will know that Rebecca Hall is a personal favorite, and she's terrific here, revealing the instability and strength that reside in Robyn simultaneously. But the movie belongs to Bateman, whose truly special performance marks the best work of his career by the length of several football fields. Simon has been wearing a mask, and watching Bateman pull it off layer by pitiful layer is one of the mesmerizing movie experiences of 2015.

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