THE diverse Joel Edgerton stars in and makes his feature directorial debut in The Gift, a genuinely chilling thriller which successfully presents itself as a memorable deliverance of unpredictability and thorough intrigue.
A couple, Simon and Robyn (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) move into a new home in Los Angeles where a shopping trip results in them meeting Gordo (Edgerton), a supposed acquaintance from Simon’s childhood not seen in years. A series of awkward social gatherings involving gifts being delivered from Gordo to the couple take place where his motives for inflicting himself into their lives remain mysterious.
Eventually, it is clear that Simon, unlike Robyn, does not want anything to do with Gordo, leading to a tense scenario where Simon makes such a viewpoint clear. Time progresses where the couple move on with Simon on the verge of promotion in his job and Robyn falling pregnant. All is well but another chance encounter with Gordo leads Robyn to research who exactly this person is and what possible events took place in the past that connects him to Simon.
Edgerton is new to directing features yet does so with such intensity and fright through the storytelling that one has to look at him as someone who should make work like this regularly. The direction is often reminiscent of Hitchcock and Chabrol as well as contemporary and similar thrillers such as Le Serpent and Sleep Tight. The former can be compared for the use of classmates bought together as adults where the reunion does not spell something wholly delightful for the main character.
It is abundantly clear from the initial meeting and onwards that Simon is not exactly overwhelmed to see his old classmate, but the possibilities as to why remain multiple. Different kinds of theories fly around as to what could have occurred and the eventual notion of what ideas are going in the head of Gordo make for genuinely unpredictable viewing.
Two scenarios focus on the outdoor fish that Gordo randomly buys for the couple being found dead and the couple’s dog mysteriously vanishing only to return some time later. With these kind of elements placed into the film, the film transports the viewer into an aspect where the more the film progresses, the more intriguing and uncomforting it becomes.
When the reason for what has happened between the two men is inevitably revealed, enough time is placed in the film to make one wonder where the rest of the film is heading. The suspense remains throughout and as the film heads towards its conclusion, the wait for the resolution becomes unbearable as one queries the fates that behold all involved.
The act of paradise gradually being shattered is detailed superbly at times with Hall’s performance, the best in the film, working as an added bonus thanks to her splendid conveyance of paranoia and mistrust. Like Catherine Deneuve in Polanski’s Repulsion, occasions where she is left alone in the house bring a chilling sense of isolation where safety is not taken for granted and segments as simple as a bottle of juice dripping onto a floor don’t help. The taut direction also places the viewer in the uncomforting situation where one feels not just completely nervous for her, but almost as if the viewer is there with her.
Bateman manages to evade his more familiar comedic persona by delivering a relatively convincing serious performance whilst Edgerton does good by placing a correctly balanced use of suspicion on Gordo. It is often edge-of-the-seat and its unpredictability serves as a testament to how well a job Edgerton has played for this particular genre on his feature debut, specifically with his use of directing himself and other actors.
As thrillers go, those that succeed are the ones that craft a level of fright and paranoia without venturing into predictable tales supported by thinly written characters. Thanks to its suspense-laced direction and entertaining performances from its leading trio, The Gift is the kind of thriller that succeeds.