Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Directed by: Joel Edgerton
Starring: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton
“Not every gift is welcome” reads the tagline to Aussie actor Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut; well this one certainly is! Produced by Hollywood horror studio Blumhouse, the people behind schlock shockers including Insidious, Sinister, and the once intelligent but now insufferable Paranormal Activity franchise, it would be easy to dismiss The Gift as another typically tasteless thriller, but the reality is that this is a significantly more sophisticated film than those it shares DNA with.
Proving himself to be as assured producing a film as he is performing in one, Edgerton acts as writer, director and supporting star to this mature psychological mystery. He plays Gordo, who, while out shopping one day, bumps into former classmate Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall). Though obviously awkward in each other’s company, Gordo subsequently starts inviting himself to dinners at the couple’s house and regularly arrives unannounced to offer them gifts. Though polite at first, Simon soon becomes upset and uncomfortable with Gordo’s constant presence, which soon prompts Robyn to investigate a shocking incident that occurred while the boys were at school together.Steeping his film in a slowly escalating Hitchcockian unease that’s evermore enveloping as the plot progresses, Edgerton isn’t shy about teasing out the tension. Early scenes are suffused with Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans sinisterly spectral score, which the composers pull tauter as the intensity tightens. And the music is complemented by Eduard Grau’s crisply cold photography, which meticulously makes use of polished space in Simon and Robyn’s idealised abode to accentuate the anxiety glimpsed in Rebecca Hall and Jason Bateman’s sharp performances.
The real gift here, however, is Edgerton himself. His skills as a storyteller have already been proved in last year’s decidedly underrated dystopic thriller The Rover, and here he shows similar aptitude as a scriptwriter. The swirling narrative tremendously subverts audience’s expectations towards protagonists and antagonists. While the subtext, which potently considers the prolonged pain felt by those who were bullied as a child, has a tragic topicality to it that adds layers of affecting agony.
Problems predictably arise as the film draws closer to its denouement. Certain twists are too well signposted to make an impact, which leads to a frustrating air of predictability. Until the closing moments that is, where the tale takes a left-field turn that’s as silly as it is shocking. But for managing to be both mature and menacing, The Gift is still a film you’ll want to savour as you unwrap it.