By Marc S. Sanders

Blumhouse Pictures had a monster year in 2017 with the release of Jordan Peele’s smash hit thriller Get Out.  It was by no means some slasher film for cheap scares.  It built on those typical shocks to deliver a message over a well-crafted three act storyline that commented on present day race relations while the action of it all knocked the hell out of you.  Get Out was one of my favorite films of that year.  

Having just watched Joel Edgerton’s The Gift from 2015, I see a pattern from Blumhouse.  This is a company intent on making high grade material on very small budgets.  This company knows how to spend its money wisely, while showing you something that looks familiar but is altogether new.

Edgerton wrote and costars in The Gift as a stranger who intrudes on the life of a happy couple with a promising future, played with great chemistry by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall.  

Casting Bateman and Hall was a smart move.  In other respective efforts from both actors, they are at their best by giving the less is more approach to their resume of performances.  In this film, they come off as nothing special really when the film begins; happy and minding their own business.  It’s important because it enhances the disruption of Edgerton’s character, Gordo “the weirdo.” All that Gordo is doing is being friendly by leaving gifts on the couple’s doorstep. Harmless, really, but I found my own instincts on alert. The question is, however, was I ever right to question my instincts in the first place.

The Gift is a top notch psychological thriller.  Do Edgerton and Blumhouse follow the same trite cliches of suspense films like this though? That’s what is eye catching about the film.  You really don’t know how developments are going to end up until the movie is completely over.  For the most part, this film is wildly unpredictable.

I really liked it.  It was a new kind of disturbed piece written with foreshadowed detail by Edgerton.  He writes with common, nervously laughable awkwardness for his couple to struggle with.  This new guy is only signing his cards with happy faces and leaving gifts.  What’s so wrong about that?  

Edgerton’s direction is just as fine with wide shots during the daytime suburban scenes to offer comfort for Hall’s housewife character, and a narrow lens to unsettle you as you peer down a dark endless hallway.  For cripes sakes, it’s only your house.  Is your new house really that scary?

The ending is satisfying for me even if I did predict an early scene would return to make its point later.  Narratively speaking though, I credit the screenplay for inventing something beyond a final fight that would probably include kitchen knives and crashes through windows followed by someone falling to his gruesome death from a great height, or drowning a villain in a bathtub before shooting him when he miraculously comes back to life. 

See, that’s what the other movies are doing. Films like The Gift and Get Out are completely doing something else entirely.


by Miguel E. Rodriguez

Director: Jeff Nichols
Cast: Michael Shannon, Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, Adam Driver, Sam Shepard
My Rating: 10/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 83% Certified Fresh

PLOT: Two men go on the run with a child in tow, pursued by federal agents and by members of a cult who believe the child has special powers.

The general concept of “mystery” in a film is a subtle art.  Not enough mystery, and people will say they’ve seen it all before.  Too much mystery, and people will wonder why they’ve spent good money to be confused for two hours.

Every now and then, though, a movie comes along that shows everyone else how it’s done.  It manages to plunge the viewer headlong into the story with little to no exposition, provides just enough clues to keep things intriguing without giving the game away, and supplies a climax that is not just satisfying, but revelatory.  Prometheus is one of those movies.  So is Freaks (2018).

And so is Midnight Special, from director and screenwriter Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud).

This movie grabs you right from the opening minutes.  Two men appear to be holed up in a hotel room with a young boy wearing blue swim goggles.  Cardboard and duct tape cover the windows.  A news broadcast on the TV reports on the young boy’s kidnapping.  However, he does not appear to be distressed in any way.  One of the men may or may not be his father.  He goes willingly when they vacate the room and hit the road.

In another part of the country, a pastor watches the same newscast with concern.  He later leads a church service, but the scripture reading consists of non-sequiturs and random numbers.  The FBI interrupts the service and hauls each and every church member in for questioning about the missing boy.

What the deuce is going on here?  How is this church connected to the boy?  Where are the two men taking the boy?  What’s with the blue goggles?  What is so important about this boy that the two men with him would be willing to kill for him?

These are all very good questions.  Whenever the movie takes the time to answer one of the questions, two more spring up in its place.  And I may as well tell you now: not every question will get an answer.  But instead of feeling frustrated, I just got more and more involved in the film.  I felt like I was an active participant in figuring out the story, along with the characters.  There’s nothing quite like feeling involved in a movie, rather than simply watching a movie.

When the revelations arrive about where the men are headed with the boy, why they’re headed there, and why the FBI is interested, I’m not gonna lie, I was gobsmacked.  In retrospect, I suppose I should have seen some of the plot points coming a mile away.  But that’s the beauty of the screenplay and the direction.  I wasn’t interested in trying to second guess what surprises were in store.  As a result, when the surprises arrived, I was constantly in a state of jaw-dropping amazement.

I would also like to point out the great restraint used by the filmmakers when it came to the few scenes that required CGI enhancement.  There are a hundred ways these scenes could have gone wrong, resulting in a shot that completely takes you out of the movie.  They avoided all those pitfalls and instead created scenes of startling beauty, even when things seem to be going wrong…or when they at last go right.

This is a movie that deserves to be seen with as clean a slate as possible.  It didn’t exactly make a dent in the pop-culture zeitgeist, so it’s not likely you’ll see any spoilers on the internet without Googling the movie, but why would you want to do that?  Keep an open mind, don’t ask how it ends, and find a way to see this movie.  You won’t be disappointed.