The Gift, now available on Pay-per-View and such, is one of that genre of thrillers that includes The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Pacific Heights, Unlawful Entry, Lakeview Terrace and so on: stories about a strange someone who comes into a couple’s life and slowly takes it over, ultimately becoming an existential threat. But this intelligent, self-aware and gripping little picture is way ahead of its own game and stays fresh while keeping you on the edge of your seat.
Joel Edgerton, who plays the corrupt FBI guy in the recent Black Mass, not only plays the strange someone here, but also writes and directs. His writing and directing are excellent. Rebecca Hall — the daughter of director Peter Hall — and Jason Bateman play the married couple trying to rebuild their lives. I find both Edgerton and Hall good actors but slightly mannered. Bateman, however, who normally shows up in comedies like Horrible Bosses and TV’s Arrested Development, turns in a pitch-perfect dramatic performance here as a beleaguered husband trying to make the leap into big time success.
But Edgerton’s writing and directing are really the attraction: excellent plotting, subtle characterizations, visual intelligence and a tight, disciplined ending lift this above the usual thing. The critics give it 93% on Rotten Tomatoes. Human beings give it 78%. As a lover of humanity, I almost never side with the critics, but they’re closer to right on this one. It’s genuinely worth watching.