REVIEW | ‘The Gift’ keeps giving, even after it ends

“The Gift” can best be described as a creepy stalker movie, but it’s not the creepy stalker movie you think it is. It’s predictable and yet not predictable. I wouldn’t classify it as horror, but like the best horror movies it relies on subtlety —gradually building suspense, just waiting to burst.

The movie is cold and meticulously constructed; it feels both mundane and menacing. It’s a slow burn-up until the final minutes, but what a stressful slow burn!

Eduard Grau’s cinematography is appropriately gray and gloomy, heightening the paranoid, dread-filled atmosphere. The instrumental score by Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans is quietly unsettling, only flaring up every now and then.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have moved into their new, sleek suburban home. He works at an upscale security system company; she’s a consultant from home. At a department store, they run into Gordo (Joel Edgerton), who went to high school with Simon.

Gordo appears timid and a little socially awkward but friendly nonetheless. He and Simon exchange a few words, and later on, he leaves them a gift on their front porch. Simon and Robyn don’t think much of it and move on with their lives.

But then Gordo shows up at their doorstep and keeps coming back, leaving wrapped gifts accompanied by handwritten notes with smiley faces at the bottom. Simon and Robyn’s politeness is tested, and things get weird.

Edgerton, who also directed, maintains a deliberate pace and a sense of calm.

His script is more intricate than it initially seems and is concerned with character development, rather than instant shocks. We learn more about Gordo and Simon’s past, marital troubles Simon and Robyn thought they left behind come creeping back and cracks start to form in their relationship as new secrets and shades of their personality are revealed.

Bateman has always been great at playing a jerk with a hint of pathetic. Here he does the same, but there’s more to this particular jerk character than meets the eye.

Of the three, Robyn goes through the most change: She starts out stable and put-together, but the stress of the situation eventually consumes her, making her frail and paranoid. And then in the second half, she transitions into the amateur detective role as she searches for truth.

Edgerton is extraordinary, giving a chillingly understated performance. Gordo comes off so harmless and weak, but you also feel like he could snap at any moment.

Though with Gordo, it’s not so much what he does in the movie but what he doesn’t do. His absence is far more unsettling. At one point, Robyn thinks she hears something upstairs, and when she doesn’t find anything she passes out anyway.

Gordo seeps into Simon and Robyn’s consciousness, which is exactly what “The Gift” does to the audience. The picture engages you on a deeper, psychological level; it stays just on the cusp of exploding into over-the-top B horror.

“The Gift” is also one of the few movies to use jump scares extremely well. The movie trains us to expect jump scares every minute, so when the sequence finally arrives, it catches us by surprise.

“The Gift” never turns into the clichéd stalker thriller you expect it to. The ending is clever and exciting, but like the rest of the movie, it works on a more cerebral level.

This is Edgerton’s directorial debut, and he demonstrates he has the know-how to craft a smart and creepy thriller.

 (Rated R for language.)