Actor Joel Edgerton makes a very impressive writing/directorial debut with The Gift, a slow burning but hugely gripping thriller that is well worth seeking out.
It begins like so many other home invasion psycho thrillers, with a young married couple moving to a new house. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are attempting to make a fresh start after a difficult patch. A chance meeting with old classmate Gordo (Joel Edgerton) leads to a series of mysterious gifts and unwanted encounters that gradually become creepy and sinister.
At this point, the narrative appears simple and predictable, like countless other genre pics. But Edgerton’s screenplay gradually turns in altogether unexpected, fascinating and pleasingly ambiguous directions, becoming something of a dark morality tale about bullying and the consequences of foolish actions. As the movie tagline says, just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you.
Edgerton makes clever use of light and framing to milk maximum suspense from every shot. “Hitchcockian” is an adjective I don’t use lightly, but here it is definitely warranted. The tension builds gradually and subtly, though Edgerton is not above throwing in the odd (very effectively deployed) jump-scare. The cast are terrific too, with Edgerton at his most unnerving, Rebecca Hall making a fine imperilled heroine and Bateman convincingly evolving what appears at first to be a one-note character into someone much more complicated. There is some swearing, but arguably Edgerton’s greatest achievement is that he achieves an extraordinary atmosphere of threat and menace with barely any onscreen violence.
All things considered, The Gift is an unexpected, nail-biting gem of a movie. It features no car chases, explosions or lavish special effects, just really good old-fashioned character centred storytelling. If you love a good thriller, you’ll love this.