How well do any of us remember high school? Like any other period in our lives, time slowly reduces those four years to a handful of moments: football games, prom, graduation. But what about the things we’d like to – and often do – forget: the adolescent discomforts, the cutthroat social ladder, the kids excluded for being different?
The Gift addresses these faded memories in the form of an unsettlingly plausible what-if scenario. After moving into an upscale L.A. home with his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall), successful yuppie Simon (Jason Bateman) has a chance run-in with his ex-classmate Gordo (Joel Edgerton, who also wrote and directed) while shopping. The two exchange information, and soon thereafter Gordo begins stopping by Simon’s house, leaving housewarming gifts and chatting with Robyn, always catching her when Simon is at work.
Simon quickly becomes wary of Gordo’s increasing presence in their lives, recalling his high school nickname, “Gordo the Weirdo.” Robyn is more forgiving, believing him to be good-natured despite his social awkwardness. But Simon thinks it’s best to cut him out of their life, and sets out to do so. To go any further would spoil the movie, but suffice it to say that Simon’s plan doesn’t exactly work out, and that his past connection to Gordo is deeper than he previously let on.
Though this set-up isn’t the most unique, The Gift is utterly original in its execution. The conclusions to various plot points seem obvious from the beginning, but time after time the movie subverts these expectations and takes a smarter, less-traveled route. Its unpredictability, perhaps more than anything else, makes it truly thrilling.
The Gift’s other great asset is character. Bateman, as the movie’s ostensible protagonist, both takes advantage of his natural likability and hints at something darker beneath the surface. Hall is excellent as well, her character’s strong sense of morality never veering into self-righteousness. But Edgerton is the real star of the movie, his performance at once disturbing and sympathetic. Gordo isn’t a one-dimensional psychopath, but rather a deeply troubled human being. The Gift rejects the dualistic hero/villain dynamic in favor of a blurrier, far more realistic one. It will undoubtedly leave certain viewers asking themselves uncomfortable questions on the way home.