Monday, October 10, 2016

30 Days of Nightmares #10: THE GIFT (2015)



The Story: Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are trying to start a new life together in Los Angeles, but someone from Simon’s past won’t let him move on.

Expectations: From the way the Netflix description was written, I thought this was going to be a movie about a crazy old girlfriend.  But, because it’s a Blumhouse movie, I knew there had to be more to it than that.

Reaction: Back in the early 90s, the horror genre was suffering an identity crisis.   Slashers were out; psychological thrillers were in.  I think everyone assumed this would mean smarter, less formulaic "scary movies"… but, really, it just meant less gore.  The psychological thrillers of the early 90s had their own formula, which quickly became as ubiquitous as the slasher movie formula.  Critic John Muir has written about it as “the Interloper” storyline, and others have called it “the yuppie horror movie."  Several of these films revolve around a picture-perfect young couple whose life is turned upside down by an outsider with a terrifying agenda.  Usually, the outsider’s agenda is revealed right at the start of the film—in much the same way that slasher villain backstories were set up in prologues.

THE GIFT is a 21st century yuppie horror movie.  Bateman and Hall fit the formula—or, at least, my memory of the formula—perfectly.  Bateman’s character reminds me of Matthew Modine in PACIFIC HEIGHTS.  He seems like a nice guy... but a big haughty, a bit smug, a bit entitled, and ultimately a bit na├»ve.  He has it all, and he takes it all for granted—which, in the cynical horror movie universe, means that he deserves a rude awakening.  (Karma, you know.)  Hall’s character reminds me of Annabella Sciorra in THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, one of my favorite yuppie horror movies.  She’s emotionally fragile; an ideal target for a manipulative psycho. 

Which brings us to… the manipulative psycho: a nebbish fellow named Gordo (played by Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed the film).  We don't know much about this particular Interloper.  We don’t know why he’s so persistent or what he really wants, but we know it can’t be good.  Whether you call THE GIFT a “psychological thriller” or a “horror movie,” you pretty much know that this story is not going to have a happy ending.  And that’s all I’m going to say about that.  Unlike many of the yuppie horror films of the early 1990s, this one is a mystery.  It’s not just about how the Interloper unravels the lives of the main characters; it’s about why.   And the why makes the film worth watching until the very end. 

Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The final revelation should conjure primitive emotions in most viewers.  Especially parents.

2 comments:

  1. I really liked this film, and I love "yuppie horror" from the 90's, in particular SLEEPING WITH THE ENEMY and THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE!

    If you have the disc (and if not, I can lend it to you), I recommend checking out the alternate/extended ending. As is, the ending works great, but there's a few added bits (literally insert shots) that add interesting context and drive home that final reveal a bit more. I completely understand why they're not there, but it's still cool.

    And I'm impressed with Edgerton as a writer, director AND star. This one exceeded my expectations when I finally got around to seeing it.

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    1. This was my first Blumhouse movie of the season... but not my last. Ditto yuppie horror.

      I'll have to pick up THE GIFT disc when I bring back COOTIES. Thanks!

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