The difference between thrillers and horror films is brought to sharp distinction in this summer’s latest thriller, The Gift. The movie follows the life of seemingly golden couple Simon Callen (played by Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall). The pair has just moved to a classy suburban home in Los Angeles when they run into Gordon “Gordo” Moseley (played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the movie).
The difference between thrillers and horror films is a fine line, because both movies make you shiver – but for different reasons. While freaky films like the Insidious trilogy have little to no logical plot, there are plenty of gory and horrible moments to make you appreciate the movie. In one of the Insidious films – I don’t remember which, and let’s be real, they are all similar – the fatherly figure suddenly traveled into a dream-world and found random mannequins that had guns and blood on their clothing. Logical? Nah. Scary? Sure.
Thrillers may not include as many visible intestines and demonic shapeshifters, but there are still disturbing elements. These uncomfortable themes are all the more suspenseful because there is usually an actual semblance of plot and character development within the film. For The Gift, the threat was the reappearance of a potentially vengeful Gordon Moseley. But each character, from the threatened wife to the protective husband, became more and more three-dimensional as the movie progressed.
Like all thrillers, the ending is one of the most crucial elements for a disturbing effect, so I won’t give it away except to say that you probably won’t be looking at monkeys the same way ever again. Now that that’s out of the way, here is what made this summer thriller a good thriller. The premise is somewhat hackneyed: someone (Simon) screwed someone (Gordo) over in the past, and now that second someone is trying to get even. But everything is very up to chance. Instead of a character’s future demise being decided by the terrible mistake they made in the past, Simon still has a chance to save himself by how he acts toward Gordo in the present. This leads to many important questions: can a person’s inherent nature truly evolve? How responsible are those who are “stronger” for those who are “less strong?” Do displays of mercy take away from a person’s amount of power?
Based upon the trailer alone, I thought that The Gift would mostly be about Simon getting threatened by Gordo and trying to save his wife from his past mistake. Which, actually sums up a lot of the end of the movie. But the majority of the movie is told from his wife’s point of view, which makes for a heartfelt narrative as the wife is much gentler and sweeter than Simon. But Robyn is not naiive, instead, she pieces together what Simon had done in the past rather quickly. She is also a strong character, and forces Simon to come to terms with how his mistake affects his life in the present. But Robyn is plagued by the miscarriage of her first child, leading to a fragile mental health that adds to the chaos of the thriller.
In comparison, Simon is, quite frankly, a douchebag. Which makes it all the more complicated at the climax of the movie, when we are rooting for Robyn but against Simon – and realizing that Gordon’s punishment affects them both.
By twisting the cliches we love with surprising depth, The Gift reminds us that while we can’t fix who we were, we can still rebuild who we might become (but only with a Gordo-approved expiration date).