The Gift (2015)
Writer, producer and actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut is a stylish and unsettling riff on the traditional home invasion thriller.
High-flying corporate ladder climber Simon (Jason Bateman) and his designer wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move to a new neighbourhood where a chance encounter with one of Simon’s old high school acquaintances Gordo (Joel Edgerton) sets in motion a sinister chain of events.
The Gift starts out like your average 80s/90s home invasion scenario. Well-to-do yuppie couple move into a modern house with wall-to-wall glass windows, you know, the kind ideal for a creepy peeping tom to peep in on you or to just pop up unexpectedly for a lazy jump-scare. But director Joel Edgerton’s Gordo’s initial visits to their home result in the delivery of gifts rather than threats – red wine, Koi carp (red herring?). His further attempts to ingratiate himself into their lives seem to unnerve Simon more than Robyn – who recalls they used to call Gordo the “Weirdo” at high school – and so it seems with increasingly good reason.
But just when you think you can see where this film is going, it peels off its surface layer to reveal a far darker insidious core. It manages to sustain its measured tone of unease throughout its generous running time, thanks in no small way to Jason Bateman’s steely precise performance (boy has he come a long way since Teen Wolf Too). Rebecca Hall is equally effective in supplementing the mounting uncomfortableness and director Edgerton wisely underplays his character, holding back from showing us Gordo’s full poker hand until the last ten minutes.
An assured debut then, restrained without once resorting to the grandstanding Grand Guignol histrionics of say Fatal Attraction for example. It’s less an out and out psycho thriller but rather more an exploration of the psychological trauma and long-term effects of bullying. It also reads as a cautionary tale which espouses the theory that karma will eventually catch up with you – and a warning that you should always be wary of “strangers” bearing gifts.