The Gift is a nifty little nail-biter from first-time director Joel Edgerton, better known as an actor (The Great Gatsby, Warrior) but perhaps not for long. Not after this slow burn psychological thriller shares what his talent on the other side of the camera.
Edgerton also wrote the screenplay, a nastily subtle piece of work leading viewers through a gantlet of insinuations, a mystery spreading in unexpected directions like a blood pool. The Gift is B-movie melodrama at its lurid finest, and worth a look.
Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, moving from Chicago to Los Angeles and his new job. They're house hunting in the opening scene, with Edgerton's prowling camera already setting a sinister tone. In the next scene they're shopping for decor, and only we notice the man always in the background, watching.
His name is Gordon, played by Edgerton, a former high school classmate of Simon's whom he can't place right away. Then he does, just enough to make a clean, polite getaway. The next day, a bottle of wine from Gordon on their doorstep make Simon and Robyn uncomfortable but a dinner invitation is expected. Gifts keep coming, manners are tenuously upheld. Gordon begins dropping by unexpectedly, when Robyn is home alone.
Okay, that's enough plot. Trust me, The Gift goes places from there that are at once familiar and surprising. We don't know as much about anyone as we think, including what they're capable of doing, all the way up to a just-desserts finale. Back stories and motivations unspool with clockwork precision and a steady atmosphere of dread, compliments of Edgerton. Only twice does he resort to loud noises to cheat viewers into jumping. The rest of the time he's in command of a plot more twisty than a Twizzler. When it comes to creeps, The Gift keeps on giving.
Contact Steve Persall at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.