What It’s About
For his intriguing directorial debut “The Gift,” Australian actor Joel Edgerton should get a gold medal in mind games.
Also the writer, he tightly draws us into a new chapter of Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn’s (Rebecca Hall) tasteful life, relocated to L.A. for his rising corporate stardom. Oh, but Simon’s past, long buried, comes calling when they bump into his old high school classmate, Gordon Mosley (Joel Edgerton).
“Gordo” ingratiates himself into their lives with generous gifts and helpful deeds, and the polite work-from-home interior designer Robyn allows him into their gorgeous Hollywood Hills place while she’s there by herself, with the family dog Mr. Bojangles. Red flags start to pop up, then eventually alarms ring, and something’s afoot. Outward appearances are deceiving — on more than one account. Simon is increasingly uncomfortable over Gordo’s behavior, and demands that he retreat.
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Once called “Gordo the Weirdo” by mocking schoolboys, he has a creepy vibe and crazy eyes, and his sad-sack, socially awkward demeanor is masking psychological damage. But what you think is a revenge-of-the-outcast stalker thriller turns out to have more layers, and twists into an effective fever dream where heroes and villains aren’t drawn in black-and-white.
To say more would spoil the fun of figuring out what’s next. A disturbing drama, “The Gift” delivers more than you expect, while following the horror genre template. Much credit must go to its accomplished star trio, keeping us rapt throughout as we’re transported into their escalating darker and desperate world.
A never-better Bateman (“Horrible Bosses”), who excels as a nice guy in comedies, offers a nuanced portrait of a winner —Alpha male Simon won the lottery in his personal and professional life. But when that perfectly sculpted existence is threatened, he goes to the mat.
Edgerton matches him as one of life’s losers. He is convincing as a mad man, whose unsettling actions recall Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” You wonder if you’ll see something insidious boiling on the stove.
Rebecca Hall, wasted in the awful “Transcendence,” delivers a finely etched performance as a woman whose life is turned upside-down by events beyond her control. Aided by her expressive eyes, she sympathetically presents a wide range of emotions, but never succumbs to playing a victim. With a look or a gesture from her, you feel her anxiety.
Edgerton ratchets up the suspense, enlisting the tools by his production team — the menace builds with moody cinematography by Eduard Grau (“A Single Man”), taut editing by Luke Doolan, an ominous score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans and perfect sound mixing and editing. I admit I jumped, and once I screamed — loud.
A home invasion scenario pulls us in because the reality hits us all where we live, no matter if it’s in an affluent enclave or a more modest abode.
What Doesn’t Work
Sadly, for all we invest, the ending is a typical horror movie finale, more contrived than it needed to be.
But it’s the type of subtle narrative that you can mull over in your mind, and discover nifty little touches you didn’t catch upon first viewing.
And that’s the mark of a good movie — how it haunts you afterwards. This one is guaranteed to stay with you, especially when you question what went bump in the night.
3 1/2 stars
out of 4
Director: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Rated: R for language