Joel Edgerton looks to shrug off his “oh what have I seen him in before?” status and prove himself as a Hollywood triple-threat by writing, directing (for the first time) and starring in The Gift. A quietly disconcerting thriller, the movie centres around Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), an apparently contented couple who have recently moved back to Simon’s California hometown. He soon runs into an old classmate, a slightly off-kilter man that seems a little too interested in Simon’s life. This increasingly creepy man is Gordo (Joel Edgerton), and in turns out that he might looking for more than a simple school reunion.
There is a distinct sense of unease throughout The Gift’s gently unwinding story, getting under your skin whether Gordo is on-screen or not. Edgerton turns up the tension with a deft touch, panning around the post-modern setting excruciatingly slowly, leaving you nervously scanning for a glimpse of an expressionless face through the glass walls. It is Edgerton’s smart writing that sets this project apart from typical thrillers, retaining unpredictable grip as he develops his characters; after subtle build-up, a single line of dialogue can click into place and instantly change your opinion of their individual motives.
Armed with such compelling material, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall are given the opportunity to shine. Both halves bring strong, complementing performances to portray the couple whose marriage is increasingly strained by this intrusion into their once happy life. Bateman is especially impressive, nuanced and refined but with an appropriate shade of the comedic brilliance that he’s known for. Edgerton himself is convincingly unsettling as Gordo, the combination of his empty eyes and odd clothes create a character that no-one would want creeping around their garden.
Reminiscent of Hitchcock’s slow-burning style (and with a touch of One Hour Photo in parts), The Gift possesses a staying power beyond many predictable, pseudo-slasher thrillers. Edgerton has succeeded in creating a dramatic movie with enough psychological punch to keep you thinking long after the credits roll, and to accomplish this on his directorial debut deserves praise.
★ ★ ★ ★
The Gift is on wide release in UK & US Cinemas now.