There is a lot of glass in The Gift, Joel Edgerton's debut as a director and writer. Windows, wine goblets and mirrors reflect, refract and act as invisible barriers. The opening shots are of an empty modern home, sunlight streaming through its floor-to-ceiling windows.
Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are checking it out as possible new home as Simon has landed a big new job with an area start-up. The house is bright and has a spectacular view, but as they close the deal and begin to set up their happy home, you start to notice how little privacy all that transparency provides.
And it is through another glass that we first view Gordon, an unassuming looking man with a goatee and dressed casually. He is in the corner of the frame, observing Simon in a store, picking some things out for the new house. After an introduction Simon vaguely remembers Gordon as "Gordo."
It seems they went to high school together. While the exchange is not awkward or weird, it is just slightly unsettling. Simon seems to just barely remember Gordo, but Gordo seems tentative, as if Simon should remember him very well.
Before we know it, Gordo is appearing quite a bit at the house, politely bearing gifts and helping them get their new home up and running. He appears in windows, looking in, as if he is searching for something. Robyn, feeling the stress of transitioning from running a design firm to trying to start a family, sort of welcomes Gordo in the midst of all of this, or at least feels bad for him in some way.
However, Simon is getting less patient and starts to view Gordo as mentally unstable. He thinks his high school acquaintance may be imagining that they were better friends than they were, or worse, Gordo could be developing an unhealthy obsession with Robyn.
And after reading all of this, you may think you know where this is going. You don't, or at least I didn't. The story, written by Edgerton, makes all the right feints to make you think you are a step ahead, but then it jukes you. Smartly keeping the focus on psychological mind games, Edgerton keenly shapes his themes of memory, the past, privacy and secrets.
At one point, Gordo asks Simon, who works for an Internet security company, what he thinks of the NSA spying scandal. We are always being watched and analyzed, yet we can sometimes keep secrets of the past, even from our most intimate partners. By the end of the film, the glass walls of the house will provide no safety for the couple.
The Gift is one of those movies that is hard to discuss without spoiling it too much. If you are up for a thriller, and willing to take the ride, you'll be rewarded by the turns of the plot, but also the nice visual motifs that Edgerton layers within the film.