STORY BY ERIC DEUTZ
Anyone who’s seen Animal Kingdom or Warrior knows that Joel Edgerton has been one of the cinema world’s better-kept secrets for some time now.
Having established himself as both an actor and screenwriter (The Rover), Edgerton wears both those hats and one more – director – in his newest film, The Gift. What results is a smart, slow-burning thriller that finds its greatest success in that which is the pitfall of most scary movies of the 21st century – how real it all feels.
Simon and Robyn (played by Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) are a young couple looking to leave their past behind. While settling into their new home and neighborhood, they are approached by Gordo (Edgerton), Simon’s generous but socially awkward old high school who seems to think their friendship is closer than Simon recalls.
When Simon tells Gordo to back off, the housewarming gifts Gordo continues to deliver start to take a darker turn.
As more and more is revealed about Simon and Gordo’s past, the line between good and bad begins to blur like the black and white static of Simon’s television set, and everyone involved learns that ghosts of the past, no matter how well-buried, will always find a way to put themselves to rest.
The Gift picks its moments well – it has several well-timed jump scares, several jaw-dropping reveals, and individual moments where you both hate and love the characters.
Rebecca Hall gives what is at times a terrifyingly paranoid performance as the one caught in the middle of a fight she knows nothing about.
Bateman, perhaps not making the transition from comedy to drama quite as seamlessly as fellow comics Jim Carrey or Steve Carell have, reaches emotional depths unxpected from those who only know him from fare such as Horrible Bosses.
But the real star of the night is Edgerton – his directing feels as slow, subtle, and mysterious as his assured performance, which is why this film works as it does.
The lights will come down, and you’ll be left hanging onto your seat, realizing the very power that the audience member sitting next to you can have over your life, should they choose to take advantage of it.
Even if the final payoff isn’t quite as satisfying as it might have been, it is still a lesson that deserves to be learned, making this film one ride you’ll want to take.