Joel Edgerton's THE GIFT is just what it's title suggests - an alluring cinematic package that unfolds with escalating suspense and when the surprises inside the mystery box are finally revealed, the audience, as well as the film's two lead characters, are left dizzy from the twists and turns they have just experienced.
This ferocious wolf-in-sheep's-clothing drama stars the fine actors Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as Simon and Robyn, a married couple moving into a gorgeous new house in Los Angeles with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a koi pond just outside their front walkway, though as the realtor in the opening scene cheerfully tells them, they have to provide their own fish. During a shopping excursion at a high-end clothing store, Simon and Robyn are just about to pay for their items when they are interrupted by a man whose tan Member's Only jacket is a clear sign he doesn't shop there. He introduces himself as Gordon and tells Simon that he used to know him back in high school when Simon was Class President. Simon doesn't quite place him right away but genially plays along and by the end of the awkward exchange, Robyn has invited Gordon over to their new place for dinner.
Gordon, nicknamed "Gordo the Weirdo" in high school, arrives at their new abode bearing a gift - a wrapped bottle of wine. During the course of the meal, Gordon cryptically muses that gifts can be both good or bad and even the bad ones can turn out to be good. The slightly snobbish Simon clearly is regretful of inviting this oddball to his home but the more down-to-earth Robyn is actually charmed by his unpretentious manner.
I'm going to stop describing the next crucial points leading to the plot because THE GIFT is a movie best experienced knowing as little as possible going in. Suffice to it say that the wine Gordon gave Simon and Robyn is merely the first of several gifts he will be presenting them, each one becoming less and less welcomed and Gordon's seemingly good intentions more questionable. The film takes turns that only a psychic can see coming and the tension that builds from one scene to the next becomes almost unbearably palpable. A sense of dread hangs over the majority of the ensuing action and one of the many pleasures of the movie is listening to the audience making connections and responding with audible "oohs" and "ahhs" as if they were watching a boxing match..
As the film delivers its final knockout punch, I was reminded of Bryan Singer's similarly twisty thriller THE USUAL SUSPECTS but director Joel Edgerton, who not only also wrote the screenplay but also plays Gordon, hasn't just created a tall tale to fool its audience but rather has woven a complex storyline about karma and retribution that is all too relatable. Every high school has at least one misfit that the crueler students delight in tormenting and after seeing THE GIFT you will wonder what role you played in that scenario. As anyone who ever had their heart broken as a teenager knows, some scars never heal.
Remarkable in every way, from Edgerton's keen sense of frame composition to the terrific and surprising performances of the three lead actors, THE GIFT gets my vote for the best film released so far this year and is not to be missed.