Joel Edgerton’s directorial debut gets off to a slow and conventional start. A childless couple seeks a fresh start in Los Angeles. They purchase a decadent mid-century home in the hills. While out shopping for linens, they run into one of husband Simon’s (Jason Bateman) high school classmates Gordo (Joel Edgerton), a relentlessly awkward and unsettling man whose posture is as crooked as his goatee. But don’t let his limp stance deceive you – Edgerton is the masterful writer/director behind this gripping film and Gordo is the gift within it.
The film is effectively shot, making subtle use of the many windows and angles around the couple’s home to splice the narrative into sectionals, depicting the inner and outer lives of its characters. We’re often left to observe an event from outside the home, maybe through a voyeur’s eyes, or to simultaneously view two events in separate rooms partitioned by a wall. The effect grants equal importance to the perspectives of each character and leaves us open to sympathise with any.
That’s not to say each character is always the obvious protagonist. Gordo is quickly established as the outsider and after he makes a couple unannounced visits to Simon and Robyn’s (Rebecca Hall) home, an unnerved Simon tells his wife that Gordo and he were classmates but never really friends. In fact, in high school, Simon gave Gordo the nickname “Weirdo”. He scrawls “Weirdo” on the refrigerator white board. The visits and gifts persist. Nonetheless, Robyn is intrigued by Gordo’s many and seemingly genuine attempts at connection and continues to welcome him into her home as he randomly appears with offerings of Windex for their windows and koi fish for their ponds.
Once an increasingly disturbed Simon decides to confront Gordo about his advances, The Gift shifts from a rather straightforward jump-scare thriller to an emotional labyrinth of suspense and second-guessing. As writer, Edgerton threads socially conscious subplots (trials of homophobia, bullying and drug abuse) into a story about a woman’s want to know her husband. Though tame compared to Bateman’s machismo and Edgerton’s creepiness, Hall’s performance as Robyn maintains that little bit of consistency in an otherwise shapeshifting film.
The flick is not without flaws. You may find yourself reeling at Robyn’s dimwittedness and lack of due diligence. A couple coincidences throughout the flick are too convenient to be realistic and the supporting cast of racially diverse neighbours and young billionaire bosses are almost too believable. Edgerton also navigates so many social issues that he ends up diluting them all. But still, despite these minor irritations, The Gift is an unexpected and engaging film until the final frame.
The Gift | Directed by Joel Edgerton (USA 2015) with Joel Edgerton, Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall. Starts November 26.