The Gift—The AllMovie Review

★ ★ ★ ★

Australian-born actor, writer, and director Joel Edgerton combines all three aspects of his career into one film for the first time with The Gift, a foreboding psychological thriller. Edgerton has starred in both blockbusters and indies, penned a number of screenplays, and directed two short movies of his own, but this film marks his feature directorial debut. The Gift is a deft piece of menacing cinema on its own merits, and more importantly, it might herald the arrival of a director to watch.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a successful couple who have just relocated from Chicago to suburban Los Angeles, not far from his childhood home in Southern California. Simon has accepted a lucrative new position at a cyber-security firm, and hopes to succeed one of the company’s founders when the latter departs at the end of the year. The couple buy a stunning mid-century home, complete with floor-to-ceiling glass overlooking the L.A. skyline, but their seemingly picturesque life masks the reality that Robyn is dealing with a prescription-pill addiction following a failed pregnancy. Their retreat to California is a part of The Gift’s recurring theme of hiding from one’s past.

While shopping for new furniture, Simon is approached by a peculiar man named Gordo (Edgerton) who claims to remember him from high school. Gordo and Simon exchange pleasantries and phone numbers, and the chance meeting appears harmless on the surface. Later that week, an expensive bottle of wine is left on the doorstep of the couple’s new home, accompanied by a handwritten letter from Gordo. Troubled as to how he knew their address, Simon’s trepidation about Gordo (whom he and friends referred to as “weirdo” back in school) starts to grow. Robyn, however, sees him as slightly awkward but harmless overall. After Gordo appears at their house again with a list of phone numbers for local services, Robyn invites him over for dinner, which turns out to be uncomfortable viewing at its finest.

After more unwanted gifts and another, much more revealing dinner, Simon demands that Gordo stop contacting the couple. Defeated and lonely, Gordo writes them one last letter, claiming that he was willing to “let bygones be bygones” regarding his past with Simon — a past that Simon claims he doesn’t remember. As Gordo’s behavior becomes increasingly unhinged, Simon and Robyn find their marriage strained by a lack of trust and a shocking secret from Simon’s youth that he kept from her. She’s exposed to the full extent of his ugly, malicious personality as he begins to lose control of his life, all while the threat of Gordo’s return weighs heavily on their minds.

Edgerton proves to be an effective helmer for this thriller: He allows the dread to build gradually, and rarely falls back on using jump scares to unnerve us. Instead, he opts to create tension through strong characterization and heady performances from the cast. Yet all of this buildup would be for naught if The Gift failed to develop a sense of narrative weight in its final act. When viewers learn the truth about what happened between Gordo and Simon, and witness the latter’s complete loss of control, the movie turns into a boundless nightmare. The conclusion is distressing and bleak, and reaches a fever pitch in the final moments — which are greatly enhanced by a subtle score by composers Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans. Ultimately, The Gift plays on viewers’ deeply held neuroses: mistrust of our loved ones, home invasions, and the past coming back to haunt us. Here’s hoping that Edgerton’s future films are as smart and nuanced as this one.