To borrow from Maury Povich, “Jason Bateman, you ARE the father. Or maybe you’re not.”
That’s just one of the particulars that contribute to the general vibe of suspense that permeates the sometimes slow-moving thriller “The Gift,” co-starring Rebecca Hall (“The Town”).
As a callous child, Simon Callen (Bateman) spread a nasty rumor that today would land him in a government-mandated sensitivity class. He’s long since moved on to a corner office and a prosperous life in California with his wife. But a happenstance meeting with an old schoolmate, Gordo the Weirdo (Joel Edgerton), reminds him that karma doesn’t recognize a statute of limitations.
Simon initially blames Gordo’s over-friendliness on wife Robyn’s kind nature but it is clear that Simon is hiding something. “You’re done with the past,” Gordo forebodingly calls out at one point, “but the past is not done with you!”
It is Gordo’s mission, or rather his prescription, to make Simon — whose tormenting he claims ruined his life — feel what he’s felt. In the process, Simon’s own life comes apart when it becomes obvious that he has not moved on after all; his bullying had not even been in remission. In fact, it just got more sophisticated (and stealth) in the years since high school.
In addition to adeptly playing the creepy lead, Edgerton wrote and directed “The Gift,” which has more than the requisite number of surprises. (Twice, the moviegoer behind me screamed and then laughed hysterically at her shock. I suppose I would consider that a testimonial.)
Hall does a good job here as well, in what at times feels like déjà vu, though I can’t say precisely why. (“Straw Dogs?” “Rosemary’s Baby?” “Gone Girl?”)
Bateman, of course, does most of the heavy lifting. He transforms from a doting husband and company man oblivious to the collateral damage of his past actions to a broken man forced to reconcile with his insensitivity. Traditionally a sure-handed wry comedic actor (“Bad Words,” TV’s “Arrested Development”) and a personal favorite, Bateman demonstrates range here.
Not a fantastic film, but an original twist on the genre (see sidebar) and riveting throughout.