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(This screener copy showed up a few days after release, so I’m keeping this review brief. I apologize to anyone that was expecting something longer)


Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a young married couple whose life is going as planned until a chance run-in with Simon’s high-school acquaintance sends their world into a narrowing tailspin. At first, Simon doesn’t recognize Gordo (Joel Edgerton), but, after a series of uninvited encounters and mysterious gifts prove troubling, a horrifying secret from the past is uncovered after more than 20 years. As Robyn learns the unsettling truth about what happened between Simon and Gordo, she is forced to contemplate: how well we really know those closest to us and are bygones ever really bygones? (From Universal’s official synopsis)

 Gift, The (2015)
Joel Edgerton’s rise as a Hollywood actor of note may seem meteoric to mainstream audiences (especially North American ones), but he has actually been paying his dues for nearly two decades. He directed two shorts and has been writing and sometimes producing some of his own feature projects, beginning with The Square in 2008 (which was directed by his actor/stunt performer look-alike brother, Nash). All that goodwill and due-paying has generated a rather generically titled directorial debut, The Gift. For his first time at bat, Edgerton avoids the all too common actor-turned-director trope of making a low-key romance or coming of age story. He opts instead to challenge himself by writing and directing a slow-burning, twisty-turny psychological thriller.

Not one to entirely one to buck tradition Edgerton does commits one actor-turned-director cliche – he works with a small cast and on limited locations. Like Sarah Polley’s Away from Her, Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus, Ben Stiller‘s Reality Bites, and even Clint Eastwood’s Play Misty for Me, The Gift would work pretty well as a stage play and these ingrained limitations help a first-timer like Edgerton focus on his actors (including himself). The effort pays off, because the characters and their plights aren’t particularly unique, so it is up to the performances to sell the uncomfortable and frightening melodrama. Though The Gift isn’t as experimental as George Clooney’s show-offy Confessions of a Dangerous Mind or Ryan Gosling’s pointedly surrealistic Lost River, Edgerton rarely neglects cinematic clarity and storytelling efficiency. He and cinematographer Eduard Grau use the widescreen framing beautifully to express emotional divisions between characters, as well as allowing threats to creep into edges of the frame. The editing is loose, leading to long takes and limited flash, though the cutting frequency is cranked up a bit as circumstance spiral out of control. This more understated style draws attention away from ‘filmmaking’ and back towards the slowly winding intensity of the situation.

 Gift, The (2015)


The Gift was shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented in 2.40:1, 1080p on this Blu-ray release. Edgerton and Grau do grade the footage, but generally aim for a film-like look, rather than a digital one. The lighting schemes are sinister and dim (even during daylight hours), they use older, anamorphic lenses, and there is a soft haze of digital noise (which really does look like film grain). Details are tight, but soft and shallow focus practices ensure that there aren’t a lot of sharp edges or textures. The digital qualities appear in the soft gradations and the eerily consistent colours. Fine noise and prevalent darkness rarely cause the kinds of banding effects or fuzziness often seen in similar looking film-based transfers. The palette is broken down largely between daytime and nighttime hues – night/dark images are caked in ambers and warm greens, while day/light images tend to appear fluorescent and blueish. The overlaying colours are persistent, they don’t completely overwhelm the more subtle hues (reds, maroons, stronger greens and blues) and the soft/shallow focus doesn’t cause too many issues with bleeding. Another particularly film-like artefact is the soft, slightly grey quality of the blacks, though the issue is at least consistent.

 Gift, The (2015)


The Gift is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound. The sound design is expectedly low-key, given the limitations in scope and action. The key here is lucidity and subtlety. Ambient effects are minimized so that drama and suspense can play out visually, while incidental noises tend to be pumped up, often to startle the audience. There’s also a clever bit of meta sound, where the in-film surround sound speakers play corresponding sound in the viewer’s speakers. Dialogue is clean and mixed as naturally as possible, including little discrepancies between volume when characters are speaking from different rooms or behind glass. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score alternates between mellow and melancholic piano motifs, driving strings, and a handful of well-placed scare cues. Though most of the music is soft, it is effectively spread and given a solid LFE boost, which helps it remain present, even at low volume levels.

 Gift, The (2015)


  • Commentary with writer/director Joel Edgerton and editor Luke Doolan – Edgerton’s first director’s commentary, which he records alongside his longtime friend and collaborator, is a pretty typical, but altogether satisfying exercise. He mostly discusses the mechanics of storytelling, how stylistic choices and deliberate pacing helped unveil the plot’s secrets, and makes time to thank all of his co-contributors. Doolan hops in from time to time to offer additional technical discussion. The energy of the track ebbs on occasion, but there isn’t a lot of blank space.
  • Alternate ending with optional director introduction (6:40 with intro, HD)
  • Four deleted/extended/alternate scenes with optional director introductions (11:40 with intros, 8:00 w/o, HD)
  • Karma for Bullies (1:50, HD) – The first of two very brief EPK promos
  • The Darker Side of Jason Bateman (1:00, HD) – The second of the EPKS
  • Trailers

 Gift, The (2015)


The Gift is a nice, um, gift for thriller fans that puts a unique twist on familiar story and character types. The performances are strong, the story takes some shocking turns, and first-time feature director Joel Edgerton makes a darn classy looking movie. I would complain that it’s a smidge overlong, but the slow burn of the first two acts might not have worked without taking a bit of time to breathe. Even the cheap jump scares managed to get my goat. Universal’s Blu-ray looks very nice (all video limitations appear to be a natural part of the source material) and comes fitted with a subtle and scary DTS-HD MA soundtrack. The extras include a solid director and editor commentary track, an alternate ending, and deleted/extended scenes, along with a couple of disappointingly fluffy featurettes.

 Gift, The (2015)
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.