Many psychological thrillers have memorable moments, but are hampered by cliched third acts that are utterly predictable. Joel Edgerton’s The Gift is more the inverse. For a long portion of its deliberate running time, it feels like every other genre title that was much more popular over two decades ago (think The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Single White Female, Unlawful Entry). They’ve been called the “Blank from Hell” movies. Fatal Attraction = Mistress from Hell. Roommate, Cop, Nanny from Hell.
The Gift is the Old Friend from Hell. Yet not really an old friend. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a yuppie couple recently relocated to Los Angeles from Chicago. Upon shopping at a home furnishing store, they’re encountered by Gordo (Edgerton, directing himself in his feature debut). He describes himself as a high school acquaintance of Simon’s though Gordo is hardly recalled by him. Gordon’s soon dropping off housewarming presents with notes punctuated by smiley and frowny faces. Twenty years ago when this kind of film thrived, that particular character trait may have seemed odd. Now everyone does it. Don’t worry, though, because Gordo has plenty of other legitimate quirks. He’s socially awkward and seems fixated on Robyn. It gets to the point where Simon must confront him.
And that’s when the hallmarks of this genre are on full display. Missing dog. A pregnancy to complicate matters. Our heroine in the shower, possibly vulnerable. There are hints of a deeper history between Simon and Gordo the Weirdo as he calls him. Side note: Weirdo was Edgerton’s original title (he wrote it too) and it’s much better than The Gift.
When the connection between them is revealed, The Gift stops being a typical entry in the Blank from Hell canon and becomes something far more interesting. It’s just too bad it takes a while to get there. When it does move into genuinely unexpected territory, I found enough to savor to make this just worthy of a recommendation. The trio of lead performers elevate it as well. Edgerton is a perfectly acceptable Weirdo and Bateman continues to show he’s a pro in non-comedic roles, too. While much of The Gift keeps on giving familiar material, the final parts that intensify the character’s relationships and motivations are a welcome surprise.
*** (out of four)