“The Gift” is a no-frills, clever, and truly frightening thriller.

It’s been a while since I’ve watched a thriller that petrified me; the kind that doesn’t rely on violence, but rather, is something frightening on a deeply psychological level. The Gift is just such a film.

A young married couple, Simon and Robyn Callum, move from Chicago into a new home in Los Angeles. Simon (Jason Bateman) has just been given a big promotion, and they’re also trying to make a fresh start, after Robyn had a miscarriage. The house is quiet and big, with massive glass windows that give spectacular views. While Simon goes to work, Robyn (Rebecca Hall) tries to revive her architecture business from home.

While out buying furniture for their new home, Simon is approached by a man with whom he went to high school, but can barely remember: Gordon “Gordo” Moseley. Shortly after the meeting, Gordo (Joel Edgerton) drops by the Callums’ home unannounced while Simon isn’t there, having seen the couple’s address on the delivery form at the furniture store. He brings housewarming gifts: wine, and Koi fish for their pond.

Simon feels this is awkward. After all, Gordo wasn’t exactly a friend in high school. In fact, Simon, who was part of the ‘popular’ crowd, reveals that “Gordo the Weirdo” was picked on and teased in high school. Robyn feels her husband is being mean, and insists they invite Gordo over for dinner, to thank him for the gifts.

But the strange, surprise visits by Gordo don’t stop. When Gordo invites the Callums over for dinner at his mansion, it becomes clear that their new ‘friend’ isn’t all that he seems. Simon’s had enough, and tells Gordo that the friendship is one-sided and that he wants to break off all contact. At the same time, it becomes increasingly clear that Simon was involved in something sinister in high school; a secret he won’t share with Robyn, but that Gordo continues to hint at. A menacing threat issued. “See, you’re done with the past, but the past is not done with you,” Gordon tells Simon.

The film has an unsettling feel right from the start. Part of this is because the use of a soundtrack is kept to a minimum. The silent background creates a sense of foreboding. The series of facial close-up shots during the dinner with Gordo, has an uneasy feel. Edgerton, who makes his directorial debut, cleverly builds the tension, until is becomes downright ominous, and intensely disturbing.

The Gift is a smart, penetrating thriller, that’s hair-raising and alarming on a deeply psychological level. It’s also the first film since high school, in which a scene has managed to give me such a fright that I let out a scream (much to the amusement of the other film critics).

Director: Joel Edgerton

Cast: Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton

Rating: 4 out of 5

SA release date: 11 December

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