For his directorial debut, actor Joel Edgerton has taken on quite a workload with The Gift (2015). Working from his own screenplay and assuming one of the lead roles, he manages to produce a thriller of rare quality. The opening scenes give the impression of being the set-up for a very conventional stalker drama, one we’ve already seen countless times: a figure from a man’s past turns up out of the blue and methodically inveigles his way into his life. Though Gordo (Edgerton) initially seems harmless enough – with his regularly timed drop-ins and proffered tokens of appreciation – to Robyn (Rebecca Hall), the wife of successful businessman Simon (Jason Bateman), she’s eventually poisoned by her husband’s assertions that there’s something not quite right with the guy once referred to by his classmates as ‘Weirdo’.
This relatively low-budget film manages to subvert expectations on two significant levels. Firstly there’s the against-type casting of Bateman, best known for his comedic gifts, in the role of the suburban husband under siege from ghosts of the past. The second element of genuine surprise comes in the form of Edgerton’s superb screenplay itself. The deeper we get into this compelling tale, the more its highly original qualities come into focus. Rarely can you speak with a straight face of thrillers possessing substance but Edgerton’s writing manages a ridiculously assured balance of commercial thrills with genuinely surprising developments that add layers to the unfolding battle of wills and shifting battle of power between the trio.
Economically shot in just over three weeks, The Gift is tense and thought-provoking in equal measure. It also boasts three flawless performances, beginning with Edgerton himself; he underplays Gordo’s reactions and complex motivations with great intelligence. Hall’s alluring combination of fragile beauty and steel-edged determination is utilised to great effect by her director, whilst Bateman is thoroughly convincing as a bastard you’d somehow rather give the benefit of doubt to than despise. With a suitably atmospheric but restrained score by the increasingly impressive duo of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, and intriguing ambiguous elements trailing in its wake, The Gift proves to be one of the best films of its types in recent memory.
The Gift opens in Australian cinemas on Thursday, August 27, 2015.