From the trailer, and just from its initial vibe, Joel Edgerton's directorial debut The Gift looks like your stock "When bad things happen to good people" thriller, complete with a soulful pet dog you just know is going to get it. But dog lovers, and everyone else, should know that Edgerton (who also wrote the script and co-stars in the film) isn't out for the cheap, predictable jolt. The dog ends up being OK; it's the humans who suffer, but even then, Edgerton is more interested in exploring the darker reaches of human culpability, regret, and compassion – and in building and sustaining a simmering tension -- than in loading up on gore or violence. What he comes up with is subtle, sinister, and surprisingly effective, particularly in the way it views men who stomp around importantly, busy with their various pissing contests and the general business of running the world.
Justin Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robin, a couple preparing to relocate from cramped Chicago to a spacious midcentury-modern house somewhere in California. And then, like a bit of bad news in a plaid shirt, one of Simon's old classmates shows up. Edgerton's Gordo -- known, in his schooldays, as Gordo the Weirdo -- is socially bumbling and largely unreadable, but possibly harmless. But he also appears to be taking an unhealthy interest in Robyn. Hall's Robyn is both the key to the movie and its anchor. The film's wrap-up has missteps, but Hall does everything right.