Australian actor Joel Edgerton makes his directorial debut with The Gift, and what a start to a directing career! Other actors, such as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ryan Gosling and Angelina Jolie, have recently turned their eye towards also working behind the camera. Though some are more successful than others as Gosling’s effort was ethered (unfairly I might add) upon release. Edgerton performs the tricky task or writing, directing and starring in this picture and is successful, to varying degrees, in all three areas. That’s not an easy feat.
Simon and Robyn (Bateman and Hall) are a young married couple that decide to start afresh when Simon is offered a job in California. One day as the couple are shopping for furniture for their new home, an old acquaintance of Simon’s, Gordo (Edgerton), approaches them. Simon doesn’t seem to remember him all that clearly. They exchange numbers and say they’ll catch up sometime. We get the feeling Simon was just being polite, but Gordo seems fully intent on keeping his promise. The next day, there’s a gift left at the front door of the couple’s house. The day after, Gordo arrives because he’s “in the neighbourhood” and wanted to talk to Simon. You get the picture here, right? Is Gordo really as strange as they think? Or are they just being paranoid?
The Gift is filled with a sense of dread throughout. Often scenes go without an accompanying score, allowing the audience to sit in silence awaiting possible jump scares or tense altercations. When the score is present it’s used to an equally terrifying effect. Thrillers that work upon the paranoia of the audience prove to be some of the most effective when they are pulled off correctly. One of the most effective methods of creating a sense of paranoia used by Edgerton is shots of the characters within their homes or offices from outside. Used sparingly but efficiently, it seems he really knows what he’s doing. Are they being watched, or are we now becoming paranoid. See? Efficient.
Jason Bateman appears to be playing against type here. Best known for light-hearted comedies like Horrible Bosses and Juno, this seems to be out of his comfort zone but also shows he should go there more often. Edgerton is just as creepy as the character sounds, though it’s not the stereotypical creepy character performance. It really feels like Edgerton has fleshed the character out, although it probably helps that he created the character. The real standout in the cast is Rebecca Hall. Hall adds some much needed warmth to the film and avoids hamming up her performance, which would have been an easy route to take with her character. Robyn doesn’t seem to be as mistrustful of Gordo as Simon, he calls him Gordo the weirdo. She begins to wonder is there a reason her husband wants nothing to do with Gordo, other than him acting a little weird that is? Robyn finds Gordo to be kind and thoughtful. Simon seems jealous of how he’s acting towards his wife. Who’s right?
Verdict: Tense, and terrifying in places, The Gift proves to be an impressive directorial debut from Joel Edgerton. Filled with interesting twists and fine performances from the cast.