Sometimes you just need a fresh start. A clean break from the past.
That’s certainly what Simon and Robyn are hoping for when they relocate from Chicago to Simon’s hometown in Southern California. His promising new job with an Internet security firm plus a beautiful new home would seem to be just what the doctor ordered to help the young couple put the trauma of Robyn’s recent miscarriage in their rearview mirror.
Alas, sometimes putting yesterday behind you requires more than just one or two tomorrows.
Still, things might very well have gone according to plan for Simon and Robyn were it not for a chance encounter with Gordon. Gordo, as he’s known, is an old high school friend of Simon’s. He’s eager to reestablish those ties … a lot more eager than Simon, who admits to his wife that Gordo’s nickname in high school was “Weirdo.”
Robyn’s a good deal more compassionate to Gordo than her husband is. But even she can't deny that the dude is indeed acting, well, weird.
It all starts with Gordo’s housewarming gift left at the couple’s door: a bottle of wine. Then he starts showing up during the day while Simon’s at work and Robyn’s home alone. Robyn, whom Simon characterizes as a “door half open” kind of person, treats Gordo kindly, inviting him in for tea, dinner, conversation.
When Gordo reciprocates her hospitality, inviting the couple to dine with him at his house, Simon’s leery. But kindhearted Robyn prevails and the couple heads over to Gordo’s surprisingly lavish home … for an evening that turns seriously odd before the meal is even served.
Then things go from weird to worse.
The Gift is a taut—though undeniably dark and disturbing—morality tale that unpacks the consequences of sins and secrets swept under the rug. Such things as bullying and slandering are shown to destroy lives and trigger dire recompense.
Simon’s treatment of Gordo grows increasingly worse throughout the movie, prompting Robyn to rightly beg her husband to make amends, to apologize. “He made peace with us,” Robyn pleads. “We have to make peace with him. I feel scared.”
Gordo acknowledges that “good things come from bad,” and that sometimes “the bad things can be a gift.” (But not positive at all is the way he seems to use that logic as the basis for "teaching a lesson" to Simon in a pretty monstrous way.) For his part, Simon does eventually see who how bad he has been behaving. He's shown to be someone whose sins of arrogance, deceit and cruel bullying are his undoing.
The Gift also illustrates the dangerously destructive power of secrets in a marriage. Robyn eventually tells her husband, “I just realized I have no idea who you really are.”
The morality-tale nature of the story is framed explicitly by Gordo, who leaves a note for Simon that paraphrases Psalm 7:14-15: “Behold, he conceives mischief and brings forth falsehood, he has dug a pit and hollowed it out, and he falls into it.” Gordo also makes a passing verbal reference to God and religion.
In high school, Simon and a friend, Greg, invented a story about Gordo being sexually assaulted by an older man, pairing it with another tall tale suggesting that the boy was gay.
Years later, Simon crudely tells Robyn he thinks Gordo’s obsessed with her, and that he wants to “nail you.” Making a crude sexual gesture, Simon sticks his finger out of his fly. We see Robyn’s bare back and shoulders through a foggy glass shower door twice. (The second time is in a nightmare featuring Gordo watching her.) Some of her outfits are formfitting and low-cut; she’s shown in a skimpy robe after getting out of the shower. Robyn and Simon are trying to get pregnant again, and they playfully nuzzle each other.
Gordo forcibly (and mockingly) introduces the idea, by way of a video "gift" he leaves for Simon, that he might have raped and impregnated Robyn (while she was unconscious). …
It shows him dragging her to the bed and pawing at her chest (while wearing a hideous monkey mask).
Simon and Gordo scuffle; Simon shoves Gordo's face into the concrete. We hear dire threats. Gordo sports a black eye and has his arm in a sling. Rocks are thrown through windows. Angry, Robyn slaps her husband’s face. Fish get poisoned. Simon and Robyn’s dog ominously disappears.
It's worth noting that Gordo was not only ostracized by his peers in high school after Simon's mean stories surfaced, but his own father also tried to kill him.
Crude or Profane Language
Nearly 20 f-words, twice paired with “mother.” Fifteen or so s-words. Jesus' name is abused twice, God’s half a dozen times (once paired with “d---”). “Good lord” is said profanely. “A--hole” is blurted out six or seven times, “h---” and “son of a b---ch” twice each.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Wine is consumed at almost every meal. Other alcoholic beverages include beer and champagne. Simon drinks shots by himself at a bar and is visibly inebriated before confronting Gordo.
Robyn steals some unidentified prescriptions from the medicine cabinet of a neighbor. Simon is furious when he finds out she’s been taking them (he throws them down the sink drain), and it’s implied that Robyn became addicted to some kind of prescription narcotic to cope with her heartache in the aftermath of her miscarriage. Gordo slips a sedative into Robyn's drink; she passes out and falls to the floor.
Other Negative Elements
Gordo starts out saying he's willing to “let bygones be bygones,” but once his hunger for vengeance is awakened he indulges it to the max. He eventually tells Simon that his goal was to fully pay the man back in kind, destroying his life.
Gordo lies about his status in life and "steals" a fancy house, passing it off as his own. When the subject of the government comes up, Gordo (who got kicked out of the military) says, “F--- them. Eye for an eye, I say.” Simon was not just a malicious bully in the past, he remains one in the present, getting a man fired at work, etc.
This spine-tingling thriller isn’t fully in horror territory, yet it’s deeply disturbing nonetheless. Not a drop of blood is actually spilled onscreen, with the movie's makers choosing to concentrate instead on manipulative emotional violence. It hints at a horrific sex crime while never letting us know if it actually ever happened. Finally, The Gift doesn't flinch from featuring immorality, yet delivers a moral message: that if you deceive and bully, there will eventually be furious fall-out and clear consequences.
It's as Gordo tells Simon, “See, you’re done with the past. But the past isn’t done with you.”
Still, even if we contort ourselves to give this seriously twisted story a modicum of credit for that last paradox, there’s another glaring ethical problem to (once again) be reckoned with: vengeance.
It's something God claims for Himself, and every time we see the disastrous end of it, we understand a little bit more why. Note that I say we see it. This movie doesn't make that connection. In the end, Simon loses everything that matters to him, while Gordo walks off with a sociopathic smirk on his face. And that’s no gift at all for moviegoers, some of whom might somehow be influenced by a darkly engaging story to put the wrongs in their lives right through similarly misguided means.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Joel Edgerton as Gordon; Jason Bateman as Simon; Rebecca Hall as Robyn; David Denman as Greg
Joel Edgerton ( )
August 7, 2015
October 27, 2015