I do love a good psychological thriller, and The Gift has all the essential ingredients—suspense, terror, fright, a social message, and above all psychological validity. Joel Edgerton, who co-wrote Animal Kingdom and The Rover (similar themes) with David Michod, took the writing for this onto himself, and directed and acted in it as well. He’s truly a talented individual. Right from the beginning of this film—with the first shot being of an empty room as well photographed as if it were a painting and foreshadowing background music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans—it grabs your attention and you sit up straight. Edgerton is a master at foretelling what is going to happen later, although you may not catch its significance at the time. Gifts obviously play a key role in the drama, all of them seeming odd at first, and later you realize the glass cleaner was prophetic.
It turns out the empty room is in a house a California realtor is showing to a couple from Chicago. It’s upscale, and Greg (Bateman) is on his way up the ladder in a flourishing company. His wife Robyn (Hall) is a designer who we learn has undergone some traumatic experiences but is on the mend. They have taken the house and are shopping for furnishings when a man in the department store approaches them. Gordo (Edgerton) was a high school classmate of Bateman, and seems to want to reestablish old ties. Greg appears to be a bit mystified, but gamely goes along with plans to call Gordo and get together.
That’s when the gifts with notes start arriving—a bottle of wine, some fish food and then koi for their pond. Robyn is touched, particularly when Gordy shows up at the house during the day with additional gifts and offers to be helpful, including getting the television and DVD player hooked up. Yes, he does seem a bit socially awkward—which appeals to Robyn’s social tolerance—but Greg is irritated.
Edgerton takes us down the garden path, demonstrating how susceptible we are to sociopathic characters who are ever so clever in planting “ideas that take hold.” He does this by keeping us guessing as to who the villain is and testing our limits of tolerance for other people who seem odd to us.
Bateman and Hall portray the couple very much in love and tender with one another until suspicion and doubt begin to creep up. Bateman is good at playing the young executive trying to make all the right moves in a big company so he will be promoted. Hall is convincing as a designer who personally has basic values of tolerance and justice, and along with that, has a questioning mind. Edgerton knows creepy, and the thing I like most about his written and evocative portrayal of the character of Gordo is its realistic accuracy as well as its ultimate ambiguity. That is, we’re unsure of where the boundary is between “sick” and simply odd.
A consummate thriller about gifts from one’s past.