The Gift is a difficult film to discuss without verging into spoiler territory. It’s a film that hinges on the plot and the actions of its characters, thus discussing these elements would ruin the very surprise that this film is trying to achieve. What I can say about the film is that it’s extremely successful, working as both an interesting study of morality and a tense, nail-biting thriller. The performances from its three main characters are all standouts and the elegant, understated direction from Joel Edgerton elevates the material above its initially simple cat-and-mouse premise.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a married couple who have just moved from Chicago to Simon’s hometown of Los Angeles. Shortly after arriving in town, they run into Gordon Moseley, a former classmate of Simon’s. Gordon’s an extremely awkward and uncomfortable individual, but he appears polite and seems to have good intentions. He soon begins leaving gifts on the couple’s front doorstep and arriving at their home unannounced. Simon tells Robyn that Gordon used to be referred to as “Gordo the Weirdo” and that it would probably be best to cut off their relationship to him. After being invited to an uncomfortable dinner party at Gordon’s house, Simon tells Gordon that they don’t want to see him anymore. But when their dog goes missing and their fish end up dead, it seems like Gordon isn’t going to end this relationship quietly.

It’s surprising that this is Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut, because The Gift is an assured and accomplished effort from start to finish. Many actors who transition into directing try too hard to implant a unique style on their debut film and this leads to a sense of over-directing. That’s not to say that Edgerton’s film has no style, but he knows not to overdo things and, instead, lets the material and the performances do most of the heavy lifting. And the performances are top-notch, with Edgerton doing an excellent job playing the social outcast and Rebecca Hall giving a fantastic performance as her paranoia mounts but no one believes her. But it’s probably Jason Bateman who gives the standout performance here. His character goes to an interesting, unforeseen place and the final 10 minutes of the film showcase some of the best acting that Bateman has ever done.

Ultimately, The Gift will work best when audiences don’t know anything regarding the film’s final act. Sadly, the trailer for the film spoiled an important plot point and this was in the back of my mind throughout the entire film. But even if some of the ending is spoiled, the film works largely because it feels like it could happen to anybody. We’ve all had uncomfortable encounters with people from our past and it’s frightening to think that our past could come back to haunt us in unexpected ways. And aside from a few hiccups – a dream sequence and a surprise during a dinner party – this is a taut thriller with an ending that will truly shock audiences.

The Gift receives 3.5/4

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