**** out of 5
Rated R for language
Article first published at The Reel Place.
When a movie is coming out of the Blumhouse Productions pipeline, adult thriller is not what you’d expect. Known for super cheap horror films — Insidious, The Purge, Sinister, Unfriended, The Gallows — it comes as a shock when we see this name in front of something not hellbent on lowest common denominator shocks. The biggest surprise is that Jason Blum also produced the Oscar-winning Whiplash, so maybe The Gift — Joel Edgerton’s writing/directing debut — isn’t too off base. It does have a few good jump scares and creepy atmosphere that it still fits within the Blumhouse prerequisites. Harkening back to The Hand That Rocks the Cradle in tone, it’s good to see a new serious thriller aimed at adults that isn’t dumbed down to Lifetime doldrums.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have just moved from Chicago to California to start a new life with Simon’s new job and hopefully, a family. They’ve finally settled in when they run into Gordo (Edgerton) — an old schoolmate of Simon’s — while out shopping. Next thing they know, there’s a gift on their doorstep from Gordo, leading the couple to guess how he knows where they live. Soon enough, Gordo is popping in unannounced while Simon’s at work, and more gifts start to arrive, culminating in the world’s most awkward dinner party. Simon is convinced Gordo has ulterior motives, while Robyn tries to give him the benefit of the doubt. Eventually, one of them may be right, but there could be serious consequences once Simon’s sister Joan (Katie Aselton) lets Robyn in on a childhood secret. Gordo might not be the only one who isn’t who they seem.
Edgerton delivers plenty of thrills along with the creep-out factor in The Gift. Bateman gets to play slightly against type as the every man with a questionable past, and Hall makes Robyn more sympathetic than most run of the mill thrillers would treat her. They’re both flawed characters with plenty of personal demons, manifested in the return of Gordo to Simon’s life. You’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat waiting to find out exactly what Gordo’s endgame is — or isn’t. There’s also a level of ambiguity that just makes the mind games even creepier. You never know who’s lying to whom and about what, even after the credits roll. Sometimes a thriller works better when questions are left unanswered. But the trap is set right from the beginning, with Edgerton pitting us all in a game of mental cat-and-mouse. The Gift is one film you won’t want to re-gift.