If there’s one thing The Gift gives, it’s a further awareness that Jason Bateman should be playing serious roles. You might know that from movies like Disconnect and especially Bad Words, but you probably didn’t see those. You were probably seeing This Is Where I Leave You and Identity Thief. Nice work. See what you’ve done? It took us this long to get a scene like the one we get near the end of The Gift. This is the most smirkless he’s ever been and it suits him.
Otherwise, The Gift is a mostly forgettable thriller, written and directed by Joel Edgerton. It also stars him as the “is he a psycho or isn’t he a psycho?” guy, who unfortunately bears an uncanny resemblance to Conan O’Brien. If you have nightmares about being stalked by an awkward late night talk show host, this is the movie to freak you out. Rebecca Hall is the stalwart female core of the movie, left home alone during the day in a fishbowl house. The awesome Allison Tolman lives next door, but only to help out with a couple of thankless exposition scenes.
The Gift’s wind-up is strong, and it unspools a delicious cruel streak. But the longer it plays out, the more trying it becomes. Ultimately, a thriller needs to both earn and exploit its twists. The Gift does neither. The twists we can see coming are obvious and simple. The ones we can’t are hastily dropped, as if the movie had surreptitiously picked them up and was examining them while it didn’t know we were in the room, so it quickly puts them down and hopes we didn’t notice. Even the finale is timid. If I were feeling charitable, I could call it ambiguous. Instead, the resolution just gets sort of blurry and indistinct and finally fades out, just like the final shot.