Movie review: Tension and shocks aplenty in ‘The Gift,’ but no gore in this psychological thriller

Ed Symkus More Content Now
A chance meeting between Gordo, Simon, and Robyn triggers a chain of tense events.

Some say that the psychological thriller was born with Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Some also say that there’s never been a better one. There’s a good argument in favor of the first statement; the second one is debatable. But there’s no doubt that Australian actor Joel Edgerton (“Animal Kingdom,” “The Great Gatsby”), has paid close attention to Hitchcock and other mystery masters in preparation for “The Gift,” in which he costars with Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. But all of that attention made for more than just a good performance. Edgerton also wrote, directed, and co-produced the film, and it’s a cracking good entry in the genre.

“The Gift” starts off in happy mode, with no hints of discord (they come later). Simon and Robyn (Bateman and Hall) have moved to California for a new start. He’s landed a cool job with plenty of opportunity to quickly climb up the ladder. They find a great house where she can practice her interior design talents, and look for some freelance work (uh oh; she had to leave her old job so he could take his new one), and maybe even get around to starting a family (yeah, there’s some underlying tension on that topic, too).

But things are looking good, and the positive feelings easily outweigh any negative ones. Then Simon and Robyn are out shopping, picking up a few things, when he gets a tap on the shoulder. “I recognize you,” says a guy he doesn’t recognize. “Didn’t I know you in high school? Aren’t you Simon? I’m Gordo.” And now the recognition is in full force. “Oh, right, Gordo. I remember you. How’ve you been? OK, we’ll call you sometime.”

It’s a fairly benign meeting, but Simon kind of rushes away from the scene, pretty much pulling Robyn along with him. Is Gordo someone he never wanted to see again? Nah, Simon just wanted to go home. Maybe he’ll even call him someday.

But it’s Gordo who makes the first move, leaving a bottle of wine at the front door of their home, but not knocking on the door. How did he get our address, they wonder. Then they forget all about it. But soon after, Gordo starts showing up in the middle of the day, when Simon is at work. The situation is a little weird. He just stands outside the glass doors – there’s lots of glass in this L.A. home – chatting with Robyn, hoping to be invited in, and not knowing how to deal with the awkwardness, she does just that. There’s some unease, but he turns out to be quite helpful, suggesting good local handymen and sharing information about the neighborhood. Her initial unease dissipates. They chat, about her desire to have kids, about the fact that Simon has a fear of monkeys. Things go well, though it’s hard not to notice that Gordo appears to be a little unsure ... of everything. Maybe it’s his manner, maybe it’s his body language.

But Edgerton hasn’t made a movie that’s going to give much away in its early stages. He proves to be cunning as a screenwriter, and is content to drop a clue or two that there may be problems in paradise. Does Robyn have a history of emotional problems, resulting in a dependency on pills? Is that part of the fresh start she and Simon are on? What exactly does Simon remember about Gordo? More important, what does Gordo know about (or have over) Simon? Or is all of this just going on inside the heads of moviegoers who are watching and worrying?

What we end up getting is a tightly wound, bloodless thriller that’s filled with little shocks, and that keeps building in intensity by slowly uncovering more and more about the key characters and by throwing curves in the plot that keep changing the realities of what’s come earlier in the film. Gordo leaves more gifts, Simon and Robyn become more uncomfortable with and about him, and eventually both they and we start to wonder, “Who IS this guy?”

There are unpleasantries, discoveries about people’s pasts, unseen sides of personalities being revealed, reversals of temperaments, and there’s the film’s title. What is the gift? Well, many gifts are given. The question is which one is THE gift? On the way to the film’s subtly devastating ending, an answer is provided. But Edgerton will be happy to know that different people are going to have different opinions on that answer.

Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.


Written and directed by Joel Edgerton

With Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, and Joel Edgerton

Rated R