The Gift is a solid, low-budget suspense thriller from actor Joel Edgerton (in his directorial debut) that slowly builds the tension while inevitably leaving the audience pondering at least one major question before the third act's reveal. The film stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a married couple freshly moved into a new home. A man from Bateman's past (Joel Edgerton) re-introduces himself in a chance encounter, only to progressively integrate himself uncomfortably into their lives by bringing daily housewarming gifts. The rest is to be experienced.
The Gift is a simple film that relies heavily on mood and atmosphere, drawing its tension with cinematographer Eduard Grau's use of space and depth. The couple's home, burdened with wall-to-wall ceiling-high windows, leaves nothing hidden for outside eyes. This use of setting and approach lends the film its almost Hitchcock-ian presence - a film that draws depth from surprising character development, location, and the psychology in the discomfort of socially awkward encounters.
The film's power comes not from its demand of your attention, but from its ability to unconsciously make you pay attention. Even while viewing this film late at night I never once felt tired, bored, or drawn away from the drama of the story. In fact, I've felt more sleepy watching many action movies earlier in the day than I was watching this slow-burn thriller later in the evening after a long morning of hard work. The Gift has a couple effective jumps to keep your ass clenched (including one that instills upon us the notion that you should never wipe the steam away from the shower door too quickly), and a few drawn-out moments of dread that keep your stomach tight and eyes glued to the screen.
Joel Edgerton shows a deft hand at accomplished storytelling and direction, while showing Hollywood once again that in order to scare adults you don't need blood, knives, and torture. Sometimes you need to draw from the discomforts and terrors of real life - a notion that robots and monsters chewing off human limbs can't often resonate once the lights come back on.