Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Joel Edgerton (debut)
Written by: Joel Edgerton (“The Rover”)
On the surface, “The Gift” appears to be nothing more than a run-of-the-mill thriller about a creepy guy who inserts himself too aggressively into the lives of our heroes. Dogs go missing, expensive fish are poisoned, and nightmares are had featuring Gordo the Weirdo (Joel Edgerton, in his directorial debut) executing classic jump scares. But then the film evolves into something different, twisting the relationships sideways and transforming “The Gift” from a too-familiar domestic thriller into…well, a domestic thriller with some motivational ambiguity.
When young professional couple Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) move back near Simon’s home town for a fresh start, a chance encounter at a home store with Simon’s former classmate Gordo—who Simon barely remembers—throws a wrench in their plans. After tracking down the couple’s address, Gordo begins dropping by unexpectedly and leaving gifts on the front porch, starting with a bottle of wine. In an effort to remain polite, Robyn keeps inviting Gordo inside as Simon’s frustration grows. When an aborted dinner party at Gordo’s house goes wrong, catching him in an elaborate lie, Simon and Robyn break off ties with Gordo, but slowly the secrets about how he and Simon know one another begin to unravel, leaving Robyn wondering just who her husband really is.
Lots of praise has been heaped on actor-turned-director Edgerton for his first time behind the camera, and it’s a promising if somewhat safe and predictable debut. After threatening to turn the adult thriller genre on its head with ambiguous protagonists and antagonists, Edgerton instead goes for the low-hanging fruit of a nigh-implausible revenge fantasy resolution. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is the character of Robyn, to whom the movie really belongs…until a last minute twist turns her into nothing more than a tool for vengeance in the film’s off-putting climax involving what may or may not be a horrible crime. Hall’s drug-dependent Robyn slowly comes to realize Bateman’s Simon may be hiding something from her, pushing their relationship to the breaking point, only to have Edgerton pivot and hand the movie back to Simon. Edgerton has some talent as a director and a storyteller, and with some more time to polish his resume, he could afford to avoid taking roles in junk like “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and become the Australian Ben Affleck.