“The Gift” is a handsomely made, bait-and-switch Hollywood-style thriller. What starts as a tired couples-in-crisis plot gets modulated by shifts in perspective and flip-flops in gender power dynamics. And we’re scared for everybody involved.
This is a movie for adults. Simon (Bateman), a corporate rockstar, and Robyn (Hall), a troubled recovering drug addict, move from Chicago to Los Angeles, and into a house of wall-to-wall glass, which is an unsubtle metaphor for their bourgeois vulnerability to outside terror. That comes in the form of Gordo (Edgerton), who appears to them in a furniture store claiming to be a high school chum of Simon’s.
Simon and Robyn keep their distance from Gordo when he starts paying unexpected visits to their home — where did he get their address? What’s up with that pierced ear? — wheedling them with surprise gifts, including a school of koi fish he’s ominously installed in their front yard. But his earnestness draws pity from Robyn, who invites him in for dinner and then into their lives, which sets off a chain of emotional landmines that forces the couple to dig back into their past.
To say much more would take the piss out of the whole thing. Edgerton, who wrote and starred in his brother Nash’s smart 2008 neo-noir “The Square,” has visual acuity, and knows when and how to drop bombs. With skillful performances, “The Gift” ends on an uneasy, and a little bit kinky, note of moral ambiguity that recalls the domestic strife hidden in Michael Haneke’s “Cache,” which also took a wrecking ball to the patina of a bourgeois couple. An American remake of that 2005 thriller (which shouldn’t be touched) has long been rumored to be in the cards. It could only hope to be this good.
Here’s what more critics say about “The Gift,” opening Friday from newbie studio STX Entertainment:
The Hollywood Reporter
Joel Edgerton’s feature-length directorial debut is a pleasant — or pleasantly unpleasant — surprise, hitting its genre marks in brisk, unfussy fashion and raising a few hairs on the back of your neck along the way.
A coolly unsettling thriller that begins as an unironic homage to late-’80s/early-’90s yuppies-in-peril dramas… before taking a turn toward the moral and existential minefield of Michael Haneke’s Cache.
Nothing here feels cheap or hasty, which is why the horror, when it
comes, is all the more chilling and grim. Slick, sharp and terrifying,
“The Gift” is a truly brilliant thriller – and, one hopes, the first of
many features from Edgerton to come.