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The Gift

Year: 2015
Production Co: Blumhouse Pictures
Director: Joel Edgerton
Producer: Joel Edgerton/Jason Blum/Rebecca Yeldham
Writer: Joel Edgerton
Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton

There's a strange thing with twists – sometimes we put more emotional investment in them than it seems the filmmaker does, and when something that feels pivotal gets blown earlier in a film than you feel like it should, it wrong foots you a bit. Coherence is a good recent example.

It also happend to me in this movie because the truth about the relationship between Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) is only hinted at for most of the story. On the surface it seems that when Gordo (Joel Edgerton) shows up he's going to be the one there's something wrong with, but there are hints and clues right the way through that all's not as perfect as it looks with Simon and Robyn's marriage, and the story of Gordo coming into their lives is about how his appearance undoes those loose strands.

After returning to LA for work and with a few lines of dialogue only hinting at some dark past they've left behind in another city, Simon and Robyn move into a gorgeous house in the hills of the LA Valley, coming across Gordo in a department store while they're buying furniture. The meeting is friendly and a little bit awkward, Gordo seeming not to be all there up top, but the pair barely think more about it.

One day soon after they arrive home to find a present sitting on their doorstep, a welcome gift from Gordo. At first it's cute and sweet, and even after he drops by a few times while 'just passing' it seems harmless. But more presents start arriving, a dinner invite makes for a very awkward evening, and Simon and Robyn kind of resolve (more Simon – your first clue) to not have anything more to do with him.

Then things turn. They receive an invite to Gordo's house, and when he gets a phone call in the middle of it, apologises and leaves them there, his presence in their lives turns decidedly weird. Their dog goes missing. Fish that Gordo has delivered for their front yard pond die. Simon becomes increasingly determined to get Gordo out of his and his wife's lives, and when he goes back to the house to confront the man, it turns out he doesn't even live there.

At that point, when writer/director Edgerton moves things officially into Fatal Attraction territory, you're more sure than ever that the real rot beneath the surface will show itself between Simon and Robyn, not Gordo. Bateman, usually the straight man in a comedy ensemble, shows some real dramatic chops here, an everyday and likeable guy holding a dark underbelly just out of view.

It's that darkness that shows itself and turns out to be the lynchpin of the story, the backstory of Simon and Gordo's school years and what transpired revealed along with Simon's true face. I felt either that Edgerton wanted it to be more of a mystery and was just a bit too liberal with the clues, or that he didn't consider it as much a third act turn as it might have been otherwise.

The Hollywood Hills locale, modern urban types and the expert deployment of tension through dialogue (which very much includes the right amount of awkward silences, misunderstandings, erc) and character reminded me a lot of The Invitation, and in a good way. It's got a great sense of its own emotional register, and Edgerton proves himself an assured hand over it.

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