Extra, Extra: THE GIFT

BC returns to champion the bonus features on Joel Edgerton's solid thriller.

As sales of physical discs (Blu-ray and DVD) decline, the idea of bonus features becomes less and less essential for new, mainstream films.  There will always be a market for library titles with extensive retrospective commentaries and documentaries (see: Criterion, Scream Factory, etc), but for new films it's a dying trend.  "Extra, Extra" is an attempt to encourage the studios not to give up on us disc champions, by mostly skipping over the film itself (which you can find reviews for anywhere) and focusing on the bonus features they were kind enough to include.  Viva la physical media!

Every now and then, an original movie aimed at adults actually manages to find success during the summer months, when the blockbusters tend to run over everything that doesn't have a 9 digit budget and a built-in fanbase. And while I'm sure the makers of The Gift knew they'd turn a profit given their miniscule 5 million dollar budget, I bet even they are stunned to see the film nestled above things like Hitman and Entourage on the summer's box office charts. Hell it even gave Fantastic Four (released on the same day) a run for its money, with the mega budget movie based on a mega popular comic book only managing to score 10m more than a quiet thriller set almost entirely in a Los Angeles home. For ubiquitous producer Jason Blum*, it outgrossed all but two of his ELEVEN other films released this year, including two sequels that presumably would have had more people buying tickets. Not bad.

It was also a bit of a sleeper, something you don't see too often these days. The opening weekend audiences apparently spread good word of mouth, allowing the film to hang on much longer than most of the other August releases (by its third weekend it was actually outperforming Fantastic Four). The marketing was also terrific, hinting at the antagonist's MO (leaving gifts at the home of its protagonists) but without giving any specifics away, making it the rare wide release that you felt like you could sit down without knowing exactly where the movie was going from start to finish. It might have been a little slow at times, which will make repeat viewing a bit less enticing once you know its secrets, but otherwise I found it to be a pretty great character driven thriller. Jason Bateman is perfectly cast as Simon, a guy that seems likable but (as we gradually learn over the course of the film) is actually a pretty big asshole, and Rebecca Hall is terrific as always as his wife, who works from home and is working to get past a pill addiction and other traumas. In the first scene they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed), an acquaintance of Simon's from high school, who seems awkward and Simon doesn't seem all that excited to see him again. The movie carefully lays out why that is in measured beats, keeping everything from Hall's perspective as she learns more about this man and her own husband.

There was a slight feeling of home invasion-y thriller to its marketing (probably due to Blum's presence), but anyone who knows their stuff could tell that these moments were not the focus, and the film features almost no violence or bloodshed at all - the R rating is for language. Still, some may have been disappointed that it was more of a dark drama than a traditional thriller, but luckily the movie was so effective that barely anyone seemed to mind. And neither did the critics, judging by the Rotten Tomatoes' CERTIFIED FRESH logo on the Blu-ray's cover. At first I thought it was a sticker, but no - this hideous thing is permanently scarred on the film's cover, a decision that I truly hope someone gets fired over. I'm all for flaunting a film's critical success - but on the BACK of the disc's case, where it, as with the synopsis and list of bonus features, can help inform your buying decision. But slapping it dead center on the film's artwork (hell, it even covers a tiny part of the T in "GIFT") is abhorrent. I'd almost rather they changed the poster into a Dimension-style face lineup than see this thing on my shelf.

Otherwise, Universal and STX have put together a nice package here, including several bonus features that are worth seeing. Well, mostly, there are a pair of promotional featurettes ("The Darker Side of Jason Bateman" and "Karma For Bullies") that are like 80% film clip and 20% fluff interview, making them not particularly interesting - but they're also only like a minute or so long so it's not like they're going to eat up a chunk of your day. Of much more use is the collection of deleted scenes, all of which are worth a look even if you ultimately agree with Edgerton's decision to cut them. And you'll know why he cut them because he introduces each one and gives his reasoning, something I wish was standard on deleted scenes collections but alas (you can skip his intros if you're not interested in why the scene was removed).

One such scene is billed as an alternate ending (and again has Edgerton's explanation for its removal) but it's really just another deleted scene that happens to occur during the film's closing moments. It doesn't change much about the final outcome, but it does offer a Saw-like series of flashbacks where you get to see Gordo's POV on several of the film's events, showing how he did certain things and also confirming a story point that is purposely (rightfully) left vague in the finished cut. Edgerton explains that the main reason for the excision was because the entire film was pretty much from Hall's perspective (with a couple of unavoidable exceptions in the 3rd act) and didn't want to betray that, and he's right. Plus the ending works so much better with that uncertainty that would no longer be present had he gone with this extended version, so while it's interesting to see, I'm glad he made the right call (and that no one thought to include it in some sort of bullshit "extended cut").

Edgerton is joined by editor Luke Doolan on his commentary, which is a little quiet and almost entirely joke-free (Edgerton praises his ability to make helicopter noises, and I think that's about as "funny" as it gets), but chock-full of insight into the characters and (obviously) the editing process, something you don't get to hear too often on these things outside of mega-sets like the LOTR movies (where every single person who worked on it has their own commentary, I believe). They occasionally shut up to watch the actors during big scenes, and more than once Edgerton wonders if you're watching it without having seen the movie first, but otherwise they don't commit any standard commentary sins (no narrating the action, precious little "We shot this exterior in Brentwood but when they go inside they're on a soundstage!" type drivel, etc.). He also heaps more praise on his terrific supporting cast, including Fargo's Alison Tolman as Hall's best friend and Katie Aselton and David Denman, two well known actors whose roles are brief and exposition heavy (i.e. thankless), something he seems almost apologetic for.  The film's trailer is also included, as is a digital copy and a DVD (with all extras) for good measure.  Not included: Photoshop so you can remove that goddamn Rotten Tomatoes logo.

For a first time filmmaker, Edgerton has pretty much nailed it across the board. He took on a less flattering, supporting role instead of casting himself as the hero, he didn't get too showy with his directing choices, and he even offered a legitimately worthwhile commentary track. Again, this isn't a movie you'll probably watch over and over, but if you're settling for Redbox or Netflix (are you one of my fellow 17 remaining disc subscribers?), make sure you give yourself time to watch the bonus features as well. And here's hoping Edgerton continues to work both sides of the camera - a debut this assured can only mean he's got the chops to do it consistently.

*Who also produced The Boy Next Door, the film featured in this column's first installment. This wasn't intentional (nor was the long delay between it and this, the 2nd one), and I promise next time it won't be a Blumhouse joint!