By Thomas Simpson
It’s no secret that I love Joel Edgerton. Although he’s not my favorite Australian actor of recent years (Hi, Ben Mendelsohn!) I would go see a film solely because of his involvement. When I saw the trailer for The Gift it was only a matter of when I was going to see this.
What further intrigued me was that Edgerton not only starred but was credited as writer and director. The switch is far from uncommon with Wentworth Miller (screenplay) and Paddy Considine (writer/director) receiving critical acclaim for Stoker and Tyrannosaur respectively. With a couple of writing credits to his name this would be Edgerton’s first feature behind the camera.
When Simon (Jason Bateman) bumps into an old friend from school (Edgerton) he doesn’t recognize the man at first. The name Gordo jars his memory and he appears happy to see him. Gordo begins leaving gifts for Simon and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), but the former is less than grateful. Robyn feels sorry for Gordo and is happy to befriend him however Simon makes it clear that he feels uncomfortable having him around. He appears hurt by the rejection and things start to take a more sinister turn when Robyn discovers some information that delves into her husband’s past and his true relationship with Gordo.
Edgerton forms an unsettling atmosphere from the offset. There is something not quite right with Simon and Robyn’s perfect marriage, yet he only hints at the cracks without revealing too much. He’s brilliant as the socially awkward Gordo, keeping suspense high by leading the audience down a dark and dangerous path with obvious pitfalls.
He’s also crafted a psychological horror. In the scenes where Robyn is left alone in the house, he creates an incredible feeling of dread, utilizing jump scares effectively while not relying on them to scare people. Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans’ score can’t be ignored in supporting this terror. Their sharp and jarring strings give weight to the scene and compliment the disturbing tone of the film.
Rebecca Hall is brilliant as Robyn. She may be a sap that’s simply too soft for her own good, or maybe she’s just a nice person that can see beyond Gordo’s creepy demeanor. Hall embeds a sense of helplessness in Robyn making her the perfect victim for Gordo’s mind games. Simon on the other hand is more mysterious. There are layers to his character that are slowly peeled back as the plot unfolds. Bateman is excellent as his seemingly utopian existence is shattered by Gordo the Weirdo. Whether it’s deserved or not, well, you’ll just have to go see it.
Edgerton doesn’t play with kids’ gloves here yet he doesn’t rely on cheap shocks. The Gift isn’t a bloodbath however at any given time you’re giving the impression that a severed head could be beyond the wrapping paper. The story threatens to get silly in the third act but instead all involved do a stellar job in keeping the film on the rails. The climax is one of the most thought provoking and brutal in years and will stay with you long after you’ve left the cinema. As far as directorial debuts go, they don’t get much better than The Gift. Miss this one at your own peril.