The Gift is a gift to film lovers who have been yearning for a good old-fashioned psychological thriller. It’s set in an airy mid-century modern house with way too many picture windows and all the attendant spookiness that comes from knowing someone could be out there, looking in. The music creates mounting tension that convinces us — repeatedly — that something scary is about to happen, while the editing provides just the right balance between slow, tantalizing buildup of a scene and explosive delivery of the shocking payoff. First-time director and screenwriter Joel Edgerton, whose brother Nash Edgerton directed the Matrix series, did his homework in preparing for this film, and it has paid off with a first-class thriller.
As the story opens, Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have just moved back to Simon’s hometown after having lived in Chicago for several years. We have the sense that they are starting over, but we don’t know why, or from what. While shopping for furnishings for their new home, Simon is approached by an acquaintance from high school whom he does not recognize, but who seems to remember him quite well. Soon “Gordo” (played by director Edgerton) is dropping by the house unexpectedly, always bearing gifts — a bottle of wine, decorative fish for the koi pond, speakers for the entertainment center — and always when Simon isn’t home. Gordon is nice, but he’s kind of creepy too. Something about the eyes. Simon wants to extinguish the rekindling friendship, but Robyn believes Gordo is harmless. He’s just socially inept, and trying too hard. Soon strange things begin to happen, and Robyn feels terrorized in her home while Simon is at work.
The Gift could just as easily have been called “The Secret,” for each of the principal characters is harboring a secret that could provide a clue to the motives behind the frightening events, and thus the true nature of what is happening in this small community. Contemporary issues introduced by these secrets raise the film above the level of a mere evening’s entertainment, providing food for thought and conversation long after the film has ended.