Sales executive Simon Callem (Jason Bateman) and his interior designer wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have only recently returned to Los Angeles when they bump into Gordon Mosely (Joel Edgerton), a former high school classmate. Gordon seems harmless enough, albeit a little awkward, but when he imposes himself on Simon and Robyn’s hospitality a little too much Simon makes the decision to cut him off entirely – with unintended and nightmarish consequences.
The Gift represents itself as a slick, old-fashioned Hollywood thriller in the vein of The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or Fatal Attraction. A seemingly happy married couple have their lives disrupted by a seemingly deranged sociopath. To Joel Edgerton’s immense credit – he writes, directs and co-stars – as the film’s twisting plot begins to unravel it reveals a rather startlingly different story. There is much more to The Gift than first appears, and by the time it reaches its conclusion a lot of the traditional conventions of the genre have been turned on their heads. When matched up with strong lead performances and some lean direction from Edgerton, The Gift turns out to be surprisingly great gem.
The film’s first half is a relatively predictable one: Gordon ingratiates himself into the Callems’ lives with an unexpected visit here and an unwanted gift on the doorstep there. Simon is clearly uncomfortable from the outset, but Robyn is more accommodating. Eventually Simon admits that Gordon was a weird teenager in school that nobody really liked, and was nicknamed “Gordo the Weirdo” as a result. When Gordon continues to push himself into their lives Simon’s patience begins to wear out. He falls back on old mocking behaviours from high school, and eventually confronts Gordon directly and tells him to leave them alone. It is, of course, at this point where the stalking and harassment develops.
So far so predictable, but it is as the film extends into its second hour that the waters begin to muddy considerably. It becomes clear that Simon has not been honest with Robyn about his past with Gordon. In turn Gordon’s own motives become much more sinister and unexpected. Cracks appear in Simon and Robyn’s marriage as the pressure of Gordon’s stalking takes its toll, and re-opens poorly closed wounds. The film’s final act pushes a staggering upheaval in audience sympathies, one that may not reverse the viewer’s opinions but certainly complicates them tremendously.
Rebecca Hall plays a hugely sympathetic protagonist who is thrust, through no fault of her own, into the middle of these two feuding former classmates. Joel Edgerton is barely recognisable as the stumbling and inarticulate Gordon, who manages to turn from irritating to actively disturbing with remarkable dexterity. It is Jason Bateman who seems the most impressive, playing a character who seems to be one kind of person and then is revealed to be very different indeed – except in retrospect it is obvious that he never changed. In an early scene he implies he has changed a lot since high school, but by the climax it is clear that he has not changed at all. Who ever does?
The Gift is a strong psychological thriller transformed into being an actively great psychological thriller thanks to an insightful take on its lead characters and a steady creative hand that never takes events out of control and never falls into the trap of exaggerating its characters’ actions. Joel Edgerton continues to impress me with his wide-ranging performances, and now his excellent writing and directing skills. He really does seem to be a talent to watch in the future.