A couple months ago I received a friend request from someone I went to high school with. I recognized them—though I had no memories of us speaking—so I accepted their request. Within minutes I was bombarded with “Hey how’s it been? It’s been such a long time!” Being extremely busy at the time with school, I tried my best to politely terminate the conversation by saying that I was busy and that I really didn’t remember them. They persisted, asking me—“Do you want me to start talking about myself?” I got uncomfortable, annoyed, and told them to back off. They did; but now after seeing The Gift—a masterfully crafted, unnerving film that I am still slightly shaking from—I realize I may have made a huge mistake.
The Gift, which is the directorial debut from the severely underrated actor Joel Edgerton, is a film that immediately crawls under your skin and stays there. We are introduced to the Callen’s (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) who have just moved to LA from Chicago. A chance encounter has Simon (Bateman) bumping into a former classmate, Gordo (Edgerton) who insists that they knew each other but Bateman can’t simply place him. Within minutes, we feel an uneasiness blow over us, infecting us for the rest of the film as we anxiously await what Gordo is going to do and if he is sane.
Bateman and Hall give exemplary performances as the married couple who must now contend with a mysterious stranger in their life who seems completely obsessed with them. Leaving gifts, notes, and randomly showing up. Simon is successful; he has a great wife and a brand new job, but we can’t help but feel like he is hiding something. Bateman, who normally does not do well in dramatic roles, is superb here. Rebecca Hall is the conscience of the film. She is the polite and welcoming wife to the close-minded Simon. She gives Gordo the benefit of the doubt, even becoming friends with him, but despite her protests, Simon grows uncertain of their new friend. Gordo is portrayed eerily by Edgerton who wants you to pity him—but you also can’t help but fear what he is capable of. He is the type of person who will try to keep the conversation going even when the door is closing in their face—and he is truly unforgettable.
Edgerton—who also wrote the screenplay—certainly knows how to craft a literal nail-biter. He teases with our expectations, always hiding something up his sleeve to then pull it out of his pocket. It shows true mastery to have an audience know that something scary is about to happen, even giving you hints at what it will be, just to still have them scream when it happens. Every reveal, shock, and twist comes with a dropped jaw and an ever-growing uneasiness within yourself as the film remains relentless up until its cut to black.
You probably weren’t expecting a psychological thriller starring Jason Bateman to be one of the most intense, anxiety-inducing films of the year—and one of the best at that. Joel Edgerton has proven himself a noteworthy director with this excellent, terrifying, and completely disquieting film that reminds you that the past is always there, whether you like it or not. Next time someone from your past shows up, try to be nice, you never know what they might have become—which reminds me, I think I need to go send out a friend request…