“The Gift” is the director’s debut feature, but it’s so assuredly handled and well put-together that you’d never know it.
Actor Joel Edgerton (“Warrior,” “Exodus,” “The Great Gatsby”) wrote, directed and stars in the film, which is clearly reminiscent of similar thrillers like “Fear,” “Fatal Attraction” and even Michael Haneke’s fantastic “Caché,” but gleefully twisted enough to distance itself from the pack.
“The Gift” opens with Robyn (Rebecca Hall) & Simon (Jason Bateman) moving into their new California home, having left Chicago and some bad memories behind. They run into Gordo (Edgerton), an ex-classmate from Simon’s childhood, and politely make small talk and feign interest in catching up with no intention of actually doing so.
Gordo, however, has every intention of making it happen and continually shows up at their home unannounced, always when Robyn is home alone. As Simon grows more and more irritated, Robyn does some digging and begins to suspect that Simon is hiding something sinister from he and Gordo’s past.
The real horror of “The Gift” has nothing to do with the jump scares, although they are incredibly efficient and well-paced for a debut feature. The real terror runs deeper than the surface level ‘imposing stalker’ angle — what’s more unsettling than discovering deep, dark secrets buried in your spouse’s past? The quiet, human moments in which the character’s grapple with their realities are far more disturbing than any of the loud crashes and bangs.
The drama here plays out like a great stage play, where the internal conflict and tension between these characters is the real driving force. Careful attention is paid to backstory and detail, and Edgerton’s script does a masterful job of revealing character intricacies at the opportune time for maximum dramatic effect. The film’s third act is particularly memorable and a satisfying conclusion to all the build-up.
Nothing is spoon-fed here, and Edgerton is great at “showing” the audience what’s happening visually rather than “telling” with clunky exposition. The film aggressively tries to keep the audience guessing — Edgerton often presents something that changes the stakes in one sequence only to expand upon and turn it on its head in the next. None of this misdirection feels manipulative or cheap and only further serves the constantly bubbling sense of tension and unease.
“The Gift” is a tight, neatly wrapped throwback that is familiar enough to inspire comparison yet brazen enough to merit its own conversation.
Watch the trailer below.
“The Gift” opens in theatres nationwide this Friday.
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