Playing with the confines and pretenses of various genres, The Gift knowingly meanders, changing forms and positioning its three characters in various lights to put the viewer on edge and keep everything just a little bit uncertain.
This exceedingly creepy and suspenseful thriller rests with Joel Edgerton, who directs, writers, and portrays the pivotal figure at the heart of The Gift mystery. The simple outline of what is essentially a three-hander is as such: an attractive, successful, childless couple moves from Chicago to California for the male half’s new job, buys a gorgeous house, and soon runs into an old friend from the husband’s past. Or colleague. Or someone.
Simon (Jason Bateman), an exec rising in a lucrative tech startup, and Robyn (Rebecca Hall), a designer coping with past bouts of anxiety and depression in part from a miscarriage, initially carefully navigate this new figure with instinctual warmth and unplaced apprehension. His name is Gordo, and while Simon only possesses fuzzy memories (not the warm kind), Gordo seems overjoyed and appreciative and the unexpected reunion.
What Edgerton does masterfully with his character though is use the medium – a suspense film – to challenge the viewer. We are sure there is something up with Gordo, but what? His acts of kindness, sending a bottle of wine over to the house for example, seem to subvert his apparent intrusiveness, popping in during the day when Robyn is home working but Simon is out.
His acts of generosity grow increasingly more lavish and indeed invasive though. That Simon isn’t home makes us concerned for Robyn; but again, to what extent are our feelings justified? These questions swirl around as an endlessly antsy Gordo makes himself a part of his old friend’s life.
Of course he isn’t all he seems; whatever he seems. As we understand this to be a suspenseful thriller, we arrive with certain preconceptions. The Gift runs eerie, buoyed by Edgerton’s immersive performance (recalling Jake Gyllenhaal-style creepiness in Nightcrawler). He is polite, overly so, boyish yet guarded, attractive yet possessive of an unsettling smile.
In his directorial debut, Edgerton enjoys carefully framing hallways and rooms, slowly navigating a cold house that might have too many windows for Robyn’s comfort. Uneven, creeping music certainly doesn’t relieve the viewer. It’s also because increasingly, the viewer doesn’t know who to trust – it’s certainly not Gordo, but as the Edgerton changes the narratve and the framework of the film, keyed in part by an irrevocable decision made by Simon, an unsettling messages emerges and everything seems to make perfect sense.
If anything, Edgerton as a director is more restrained building up to the mystery’s slow, dramatic reveal. Never does he not seem in control though, even though at least one character in the film isn’t, and certainly the viewer isn’t either.