[Screen It]


(2015) (Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall) (R)

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Suspense/Thriller: Following their recent move, a married couple must contend with the husband's former high school classmate becoming increasingly involved in their lives, with them unsure of his intentions.
Simon (JASON BATEMAN) and Robyn (REBECCA HALL) have just moved to Los Angeles for his job and have found a lovely house with great views from its many glass walls. When they're out shopping for household items, they run into Gordo (JOEL EDGERTON), a former high school classmate of Simon's who he doesn't immediately recognize. They exchange pleasantries and think nothing more of it until a bottle of wine shows up as a gift at their front door. Such visits increase in frequency, something that troubles Simon, with his increasingly upset reactions confusing Robyn since Gordo seems to be a nice, if somewhat odd man.

When Simon finally tells Gordo to leave them alone, they think they're done with him. But when they return home to find the Koi fish he gave them as a gift turning up dead, and their dog missing, they realize their interaction with him isn't over. And when Gordo leaves them a letter about letting bygones be bygones, Robyn's suspicions are aroused, especially when Simon becomes reluctant to talk about what, if anything, might have happened between him and Gordo back in high school. With Robyn becoming increasingly aware that she doesn't know her husband as fully as she previously thought, and being unsure of what Gordo's intentions are, it's unclear how things will ultimately play out.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
Look just about anywhere in time, and you'll find parents, teachers, coaches, motivational specialists and self-help gurus who have opinions about the past. Not particularly related to what's happened to the world throughout history, but more as it applies to you as an individual. Sayings such as "Let bygones be bygones," "It's no use crying over spilled milk" and "All that is now just water under the bridge" are a dime a dozen when it comes to not dwelling on the past, especially if it's currently affecting one's present and likely their future.

Yet, for all of that advice, the vast majority of people can't let go of the past, particularly if they feel they were wronged by something or someone in it. All of which results in the desire to even the score, level the playing field or whatever other term you want to use for revenge. And the latter is what's fueled many a movie, even if that word isn't always found in the title.

Of course, some of those films involve the victim purposefully seeking out those who wronged them, while others fall into the "I got lucky" variety where they just so happen to come across the perpetrator of their past and, apparently, current woes. While watching "The Gift," one gets the sense that you're witnessing an event in the latter category.

You see, when Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife, Robyn (Rebecca Hall), move from Chicago to Los Angeles, who do they happen to run into but a guy who went to high school with Simon. He doesn't really remember Gordo (Joel Edgerton), but somewhat awkward pleasantries are exchanged and that man and the couple go their separate ways. But then Gordo leaves his first gift of many for them, a bottle of wine, and the couple goes from thinking this is a little strange to more than a bit unsettling with each such occurrence.

In staging that setup, Edgerton -- who makes his writing and directing debut behind the camera while also appearing in front of it -- harkens back to the domestic intruder thrillers of the 1980s and '90s -- such as "Pacific Heights," "Fatal Attraction" and so on -- where a seemingly good-natured and friendly enough person turns into a living nightmare for those he or she bugs, stalks and ultimately terrorizes.

The cinematic multihyphenate plays that character to a T, keeping both the besieged couple and thus viewers in the dark about his true nature and intentions. Is he just a nice but socially awkward and lonely guy who needs a friend? Does he take joy in bugging others by constantly showing up at their home unannounced? Or does he have a score to settle, and is either bumbling his way through that, or is he a master manipulator from the start through the completion of his plan?

I won't spoil the answer to that (and watch out for spoilers in our parental review that do reveal key moments and revelations), but I will say the film turns into something a bit deeper, more intriguing and finally twisted than one might initially expect. It does revolve around the power of words and suggestions on others, and how such statements, rather than the pen in this case, can indeed be just as mighty as the sword.

The writer/director proves himself more than capable of handling the material and manipulating the viewer -- even taking his time doing so in an old thriller type way -- be that in standard, haunted house fashion moments where Hall's character hears something and slowly walks through the house (night and day) to investigate (including some decently staged and executed jump scenes) or with our expectations of how the characters will likely act as the plot unfolds. Beyond Edgerton perfectly playing the outsider, Bateman is believable as the husband whose true nature is revealed layer by layer as the stress level increases, while Hall convincingly plays the on-edge wife who learns a new thing or two about her dear hubbie.

All of the performances nicely lead up to the third act reveal that's likely one of the more twisted plot constructs you'll see in a movie this year. Some viewers will love the nasty nature of it (in terms of comeuppance and payback), while others will likely find it quite troubling and disturbing (as it's intended to be, all while it drives but thankfully doesn't hammer home its thematic point). I certainly didn't see it coming, and you might not either, all of which means "The Gift" is the sort of thriller that keeps on giving until the very end. It rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed August 5, 2015 / Posted August 7, 2015

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