There’s a lot of promise in The Gift, a psychological thriller written by, directed by, and starring Joel Edgerton. Edgerton plays Gordo, a creepy guy with a dyed wig and matching beard who blunders back into the life of Simon (Jason Bateman), an old classmate recently relocated from Chicago to Los Angeles with Robyn (Rebecca Hall), his wife. Faster than you can say Fatal Attraction and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, the socially stunted Gordo starts showing up unannounced and staring into the wraparound windows of his old schoolmate’s pricey hillside home.
He leaves inappropriately extravagant gifts at their door. Stares too long with dead, shark eyes at Robyn. And spends too much time with their lovable dog. (Uh-oh). Robyn chides her workaholic, Type A husband that he’s being too hard on Gordo but Simon wants to nip the high school reunion in the bud. Guess how that works out? The slow burn atmospheric buildup, the quietly creepy camera moves (nice cinematography by Edu Grau) whet your whistle for something deep, dark, and scary. And that setup could have lent itself to the plot’s going off in any one of a half dozen fascinating directions. But it doesn’t, really. Sure, the movie delivers a number of nifty “boo” and “gotcha” moments, and has more than a few left field plot zigs and zags, but it’s emotionally false and tinny from the very first scene. Not one character says or does anything remotely lifelike, let alone rational.
On the upside, Edgerton uses his brooding, haunted-eyed presence to good boogie man effect. He’s pretty much the whole show, managing to create an oddball who is as sad and vulnerable as he is deeply damaged. Hall gets stuck playing an underwritten beanbag sort of role and her past as a mother who lost her baby gets brought up whenever the plot machinations require a red herring, a victim, an unreliable narrator, a patsy. It’s sexist and it diminishes the movie. Bateman does a nice turn on his caustic, sardonic know-it-all persona. Edgerton, who previously scripted Felony and The Square and has studied a Roman Polanski and Alfred Hitchcock movie or two, obviously has a talent that ought to get exercised. For heat-ravaged late summer moviegoers, The Gift ought to do just fine.