Aussie chameleon Joel Edgerton crafts a deft psychological thriller in The Gift, a throwback to the classic thrillers of the eighties and nineties. Remember Fatal Attraction, Unlawful Entry and Pacific Heights. What Edgerton accomplishes with his debut feature is to reinvigorate the formula and deliver a contemporary edge to the genre.
The set-up is simple, a husband and wife newly arrived from Chicago are in the process of buying a home in Los Angeles, Simon (Bateman) has arrived with the promise of a new job and a promising promotion on the horizon. Robyn (Hall) was running a successful business in Chicago, but has come to LA to support her husband, and to recover from a recent loss. Whilst shopping they have an awkward encounter with Simon’s High School acquaintance Gordo, (Edgerton). It’s an unsettling encounter that begins a change of events, Gordo begins turning up at the couples home, delivering gifts and imposing himself, much to the annoyance of Simon. Gordo is clearly unstable, however there is something else going on here, and its called the past.
Edgerton already an accomplished actor and screenwriter, takes to the directing role effortlessly. He understands the machinations of building up tension, delivering sharp sudden jolts and using violence effectively. Rebecca Hall finally is offered the opportunity to play a complex, multi-layered role, initially a shy, slightly broken woman who emerges with a quiet strength as the plot unfolds. Hall is the centrepiece of the film in which all the events unravel, she shifts from a passive observer to an assertive protagonist. Bateman slyly plays the everyman with a shady past brilliantly, whilst Edgerton underplays the classic mentally unstable weirdo nicely.
Cinematography from Eduard Grau (Buried) migrates from the slick surfaces of LA to the dark underbelly beautifully, and the editing from fellow Aussie Luke Doolan (Animal Kingdom) builds the tension perfectly. Edgerton is a multiskilled filmaker on the rise, can’t wait to what he does next.