THE GIFT (NC16)
100 minutes/Opens tomorrow/ (3.5/5) stars
The story: Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) return to the place where he had grown up and move into a new home. They bump into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), one of Simon's former high school mates.
He starts to leave gifts for the couple on their doorstep, but Simon is less than thrilled. Wondering what had happened between the two, Robyn starts to dig into the past.
Each time we watch a movie, inevitably, we bring with us certain assumptions. In this thriller, writer-director-actor Edgerton cleverly plays with those preconceptions in his feature directorial debut.
A young couple moving into a new home is a set-up seen in many other movies. Often, things go awry quickly, thanks to things that go bump in the night - witness movies such as Paranormal Activity (2007) and Poltergeist (2015).
Edgerton builds tension from the familiarity of the situation but otherwise does not follow the same script. The Gift is not a supernatural thriller even though it uses some of the same tropes deployed in horror flick after horror flick.
While music cues are too often overused as a scare tactic, they are used sparingly here for misdirection. Instead, suspense grows as silences are drawn out.
Even the casting is not as straightforward as it seems.
Bateman is known for playing the harried nice guy in comedies both on the small screen - Arrested Development (2003 to 2006, 2013 to present) - and big - Identity Thief (2013) and Horrible Bosses (2011).
As The Gift unfolds, the dark edge to Simon's likeability is gradually revealed.
The story itself keeps you guessing as to where it is headed with question marks hanging over the key trio.
Is Gordo merely socially awkward or is there something sinister going on in his unannounced visits to the house?
Is Simon being evasive about the past or is he just a concerned husband? Is Robyn paranoid or does she have good reason to dig into the past?
The competent cast handle the material well. Hall is a consistently reliable actress (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, 2008), while Edgerton is a versatile and prolific actor whose credits include Zero Dark Thirty (2012) and The Great Gatsby (2013). His malleability serves him well here.
Twist piles upon twist in the final revelations, although a greater degree of murkiness might have worked better.
This movie is one gift you will not want to return to the sender.
Check out other movies that are opening in cinemas on Aug 6 here.
This article was first published on August 5, 2015. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.