On the surface, The Gift—Writer-Director Joel Edgerton’s feature directorial debut—looks like it could be a schlocky B-movie thriller, but Edgerton crafts a highly entertaining film with just a few elements holding it back from being a classic.
The story focuses on successful couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall). The two of them have moved from Chicago to California near Simon’s hometown. Simon has accepted a new job that allows them to purchase a spacious modern home with a fantastic view provided by its myriad of glass walls. While shopping for some decor items, Simon is approached by Gordon (Edgerton), who goes by Gordo. Gordo is apparently an old schoolmate of Simon’s, but Simon doesn’t seem to really remember him. He humors Gordo and takes his number, never intending to make contact with the guy ever again. Unfortunately, Gordo overhears Simon give his and Robyn’s new address to the sales clerk and the next day, Gordo shows up at the house while Robyn works from home. He leaves gifts for the couple and eventually invites them over to his home. Robyn feels Gordo is a kind lost soul, but Simon is uncomfortable with Gordo forcing himself into their lives. He’s also not very forthcoming about his past with Gordo and Robyn begins to get suspicious about it. She looks into the past and finds that Simon might not be the man she thought he was.
Edgerton does a fantastic job of creating a persistent feeling of dread throughout the film. As an audience member, you constantly feel that the bottom could fall out on these characters at any minute, which is great for a thriller. The film keeps you guessing because while Gordo is definitely a creepy character, you’re never sure just how bad or harmless he is and how much should be chalked up to Robyn’s paranoia. Since she works from home and Gordo is constantly dropping in, Robyn is the primary point of view character for the audience. That’s good for keeping the tension ratcheted up, but Edgerton never takes advantage of Robyn’s paranoia when she begins to investigate what really happened at school between Simon and Gordo. She never really presses Simon on what the truth is—something that her interview subjects constantly point out to her—and when she pieces it all together, the result is surprising, but a little disappointing too since this is a thriller. The plot is also suitably twisty, but some of the twists you can see coming if you’ve seen enough of these things. The end is fantastic and really messed up, though.
The three leads all deliver great performances. Though Hall struggles with the detective angle of things, her flippant attitude dissolving into true paranoia is great. Edgerton is also really good as the old classmate who doesn’t seem all there and is super creepy. However, the MVP of this film is Bateman as he plays completely against type as the film progresses. His performance subverts what the audience expects of him from his past likable roles and I felt that Edgerton could have taken it even further with Bateman, but he reins it back to make Simon despicable, but not completely irredeemable.
Overall, The Gift is a great time at the theater and is a solid small film that deserves people’s support. It evokes some of the classic 80s and 90s thrillers, but stands on its own with a more modern message for audiences. I’m really looking forward to more work like this from Edgerton. Definitely check it out if you have a chance.