"The Gift" Review: Boring or Idiotic? Why Not Both?
In an empty movie theater last night, I watched The Gift. I should have stayed home and watched paint dry. First, because I really do have some painting that needs done. And second, because while watching paint dry for two hours would be awfully boring even in comparison to The Gift, at least I might have gotten high from the paint fumes.
Nothing happens in the first hour of The Gift. And then insultingly stupid things happen for the last hour of it.
So, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall move from Chicago to a fancy house in southern California. He’s got one of those ill-defined jobs in which he wears suits, works a lot, makes a shit ton of money, and contributes nothing meaningful to either society or plot. She’s a designer who works from home, because of course she is. Basically, they’re trademarked rich movie white people who think they’re middle class and have earned everything they’ve got. Call me communist but once a couple in a movie casually buys a house in the Laguna Hills as the credits are rolling and immediately sets about renovating it while only one of the partners even works, I’m sort of rooting for a sociopath to burn it down.
Oh, here’s one! Immediately a weird creepy guy who went to school with Bateman shows up and starts dropping by the house, and something is vaguely off about him. He leaves gifts for them, they get nervous, there are jump scares in which the characters find nothing. An hour of this fucking film is just nothing happening punctuated by BOOOOO - kidding, bro, still nothing.
I know I’ve ranted about it before, but fuck jump scares. They’re not scary, they’re not effective, they are the sign of a complete amateur of a filmmaker. If we used numerical ratings in our reviews, every jump scare in a movie would drop the film’s score by sevendiddily points. Slowly ratcheting up some tense music and then jerking the camera and blaring loud noise is not goddamned scary, it does not elicit an emotional reaction other than anger at being treated like a fucking one year old playing peak-a-boo instead of a grown-ass adult. I want every film maker to be required to watch their own films with electrodes attached to their nethers that are triggered off of jump scares.
The only thing more amateurishly idiotic as a filmmaker is threatening a dog.
Oh wait, that’s act two of the film.
Ok, well the only amateurish crap filmmaking trick other than both of those is thinking that having twists on top of twists that do nothing but invalidate the entire rest of the movie is edgy and intelligent instead of just bad writing.
I’m going to go ahead and spoil the film, because I don’t care, but if you do, either stop reading or don’t complain.
So there’s the first obvious twist which is that ooh Joel Edgerton is crazy and creepy. That’s kind of like in the trailer. Then there’s the second twist which is that Jason Bateman was an asshole in high school and sort of is a sociopath who ruined Edgerton’s life (and has ruined others), and Edgerton actually has been nice if weird. Nevermind that completely renders the first hour of the film narratively fucking pointless because it means that hey the vague creepiness? Wasn’t relevant or real, the filmmaker just wanted to make you watch paint dry. But OOH there’s the third twist which is that after Bateman pushes him over the edge, Edgerton then drugged Hall and may or may not have raped her, and therefore the baby she just had may or may not be his. After all that bullshit, I wish there’d been a fourth twist in which I woke up and found out that it was all a dream.
Note that Hall’s character is essentially oblivious to all of this except the fact that her husband’s an ass so she leaves him. Her character has no purpose other than as an object to be fucked with (and by) by her husband and someone with a grudge against him. The final scenes in which Edgerton reveals these things are shot entirely from the perspective of Bateman sobbing and feeling devastated. As if we’re supposed to feel sympathy like some tragic house of cards has collapsed on a dude who treats his wife like shit, ruins people’s lives with molestation accusations, ruins other people’s lives with fraudulent evidence, and generally is at about a seven out of ten on the potential serial killer scale.
One could weave a good story with some of these elements: a tragic story of a woman who is abused and treated as an object. But the movie is neither written nor shot that way. Her character is treated just as much as an object by the filmmakers as she is by the other characters. The film’s story is not shot as “this woman is treated as an object, it’s sad” but as “this dude fucked with this other dude’s object, it’s sad”.
At least normally when they shove a woman in a fridge, there’s at least someone upset about it that we can root for.
Steven Lloyd Wilson is a hopeless romantic and the last scion of Norse warriors and the forbidden elder gods. His novel, ramblings, and assorted fictions coalesce at www.burningviolin.com. You can email him here.