The Gift film review – stranger danger

Jason Bateman and Joel Edgerton star in chilling horror The Gift

Ever felt a bit awkward about accepting a Facebook friend request from someone you barely remember from school? Magnify that feeling by a thousand and you might come close to the tension at the heart of The Gift.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn Callum (Rebecca Hall) are a happily married couple who’ve just bought an impressive new house in California. Simon’s got a swanky new job and Robyn’s busy with consultancy work, plus they’re planning to have a baby, so everything is smugly perfect until they run into Gordo (writer/director Joel Edgerton, collecting yet another pay cheque on this project).

Socially awkward and clearly troubled, Gordo just wants to be friends – but when he starts leaving gifts on their doorstep and turning up unannounced, the Callums start to feel a bit threatened. And when Simon tries to break up with their new friend, things really kick off…

But this isn’t a simple stalk-and-slash type horror. It’s got another trick up its sleeve. Granted, it’s one you’ll figure out pretty quickly, because every plot development is clearly telegraphed before it happens, but there’s an interesting dilemma at the centre of it. Can you leave your past behind? Or are we doomed to bear the scars of our childhood for the rest of our lives?

It’s a shame that the film doesn’t quite manage to come up with an answer, and it loses the courage of its convictions in its third act. The final sting is kind of gross – it’s hard not to see the ending as a kind of betrayal of its characters.

But until then, there’s plenty to recommend this. First-time director Edgerton makes everything look beautiful even when it’s deeply sinister, and his cast all do a great job. Film nerds will either smile or roll their eyes at the dozens of film references shoehorned in, but really this is for the kind of puzzle-solving viewer who enjoys figuring out murder mysteries before the TV detectives can.

And if nothing else, it’ll definitely make you think twice about accepting those friend requests.