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The Gift, the Great Stalker Thriller, Is Now on Netflix

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©Universal/Courtesy Everett Collection

You’re not ready for Joel Edgerton’s 2015 horror movie.

“Kill them with kindness,” as that saying goes, seems to be the driving ethos of Joel Edgerton‘s The Gift at first—a stalker-thriller in which a husband and wife find themselves subjected to the overwhelming kindness of a stranger. We’ve seen this before, until we haven’t, and The Gift becomes something entirely different altogether. It’s streaming on Netflix right now, and, hot damn, you don’t want to have missed out on this one.

Robyn and Simon Callem (an astounding Rebecca Hall and a pretty good Jason Bateman) arrive in L.A. from Chicago to a beautiful new home, and quickly find themselves the focus of Gordo (writer and director Joel Edgerton), a former high school classmate of Simon’s. Gordo is every bit your movie creep archetype: soft-spoken, alternating between awkward and inappropriately forthcoming, and just a little bit strange-looking (Edgerton gives himself a lame goatee and bad haircut to disguise his usual put-together look). Gordo is, on paper, a dream friend for a couple navigating a new home, a new city. He welcomes them home with a bottle of wine at their doorstep. He drops by with a gag gift of glass cleaner. (“I noticed you have a lot of it,” he tells Robyn, surveying the big windows and open-plan arrangement of their new home.) Later, he provides fish food, for the fish he provided, for their empty koi pond. All these gifts come with notes signed off with a smiley face, and an obstinate red bow that becomes something of an ominous symbol after the third successive casual drop-by. If this isn’t quite a home-invasion thriller, it might be a boundary-invasion thriller—arguably an even more disturbing concept.

For their part, Simon and Robyn take Gordo’s well-intentioned over-enthusiasm in good stride. He’s a charming dinner guest, eager to help around the house while Simon’s at work. But there’s a fine line between a new friend and an overbearing intrusion, and sooner than expected in the film, a climax of sorts is reached when Simon, to Robyn’s quiet regret, tells Gordo to no longer contact the two of them.

But we’re just getting started.

Edgerton, clearly, did his homework with The Gift. He hits all your standard beats and provides pretty much every ingredient you need for a taut horror-thriller, then starts to turn the screw just a little bit more. The subtext-laden conversations early in the film between the couple and the not-quite-yet intruder are almost unbearably tense, and Simon’s impatient dressing down of Gordo, unnerving as he can be, feels almost cruel in its directness. It’s here Edgerton starts to play around with his neat narrative blueprint. “I truly was willing to let bygones be bygones,” Gordo writes in his apology/goodbye letter to the Callems. When Robyn asks what that could possibly mean, Simon feigns ignorance.

All three actors work overtime to imbue the seedy Gift with more sincerity than we’ve come to expect from a low-budget scary movie. Bateman’s work, especially, becomes more and more impressive as the film wears on. Those “bygones” turn out to be plenty significant, and while never sympathetic, Simon slowly transitions into more of an active villain than Gordo, whose motivations become clearer, and darker, and then even darker.

In lesser movies, threats lurk in the shadows, behind corners. Here, when the house has neither, Robyn is on display. Her vulnerability and her husband’s increasing shiftiness lead to something of a breakdown for Robyn, and the film’s final, nastiest twist.

The Gift is a smart, terrifying film about cruelty and the sins of the past. By the time the film’s over, it’s unclear who deserved what outcome, who “wins.” All the pieces of this story were put in place long before the opening scene. We just get to watch the terrible, inevitable fallout.

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