The Gift is a movie written and directed by Joel Edgerton, who touches on audience expectations just enough in his new thriller. Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) are a couple who have just moved to a new home due to Simon's job where they bump into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), supposedly a classmate from Simon's past. Gordo drops in on the couple repeatedly, leaving what seem to be thoughtful and perhaps therefore unsettling gifts. Despite what Robyn take to be well-intentioned actions, Simon rebuffs Gordo which leads to the unveiling of a past that the latter had originally intended to let bygones be bygones.
Edgerton seems well-versed in the lore of a mysterious friend gone bad and he is skillful in his execution of it, using just enough of our expectations to build on them. He's wonderful as Gordo as well, giving off that awkward hang-dog air that has just enough sinister quality: it's like his single hoop earring that adds just enough glint, and also alludes to his genie-like gifting. Bateman also settles into his role as asshole very well, and Edgerton similarly knows how to use him subtly - giving us hints of his personality and of Robyn's neuroses from the beginning without slapping us in the face with it. Bateman's acting personality sits believably well in his character, although there's a nuance to it that he hasn't always had the opportunity to evince as an actor.
As an actress, Rebecca Hall always seems underutilized, although whether that's to the fault of the movies she chooses or her actual acting is not certain. Even in The Gift, although she performs well with what she is given, her character is used as a pawn too much for someone who provides the narrative eyes and strain for the majority of the movie. Indeed, the shifts from her viewpoint are a bit jarring and make the treatment of her character unfair and not completely sensical.
What makes this movie flow however are the cold tones of the cinematography and Edgerton's keen sense of underplay. There are Hitchcockian notes in here, but maybe that's because Edgerton uses those expectations to play the audience into his narrative hands. The most unexpected aspect of The Gift, however is the questions of morality, the past, and people that he manages to intelligently thread into what was probably perceived as a simple thriller. Some of the themes turn the stomach, but they're meant to.