This debut from Joel Edgerton (of all people) is a terrific thriller that—despite slowly building to an orchestrated revenge it saves until its very end—doesn’t wear out its welcome by stretching the boundaries of its credibility too soon. Edgerton’s editing makes light work of setting the scene in the opening passages. We begin with a couple viewing a house (Hall and Bateman as Robyn and Simon). They move in. And while they’re buying furniture they’re being watched through the shop window. The stranger (Edgerton) enters the store and introduces himself as a high school classmate of Simon’s. Being on heavy rotation on TV recently, I’d caught glimpses of it. And on the two separate occasions I’ve seen as it begins, I’d earmark it for a later viewing, on my terms, without commercial breaks. For the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
An adult drama fitting a recent mold of slow-burning art-house titles that eschew the reliance on contrived improbablity, it shares quite a bit of common ground with noteworthy contemporary entries. Be that in their mood, style, tone, or more importantly, elevating dialog above overt confrontation and cheap twists, these films feature everyday encounters packaged as disturbances. The horror next door, so to speak. James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence (2013); Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation (2015); Antonio Campos’ Christine (2016); and Trey Edward Schultz’s Waves (2019) come to mind. A lot of conflict and suspense is conveyed in these movies via dialogue, mood and emotions. The similarities also draw from a long line of stalker predecessors like Single White Female (1992), Unlawful Entry (1992), Six Degrees of Separation (1993), and, dare I say, Michael Haneke’s Caché (2005). The majority of these films feature some type of past trauma dogging the protagonist or antagonist. The tension lies in how resolution, atonement or closure can be attained.
Simon only recognizes the guy upon hearing his name. But they’re in a hurry, so it appears he brushes the guy off. To be fair, it’s a toss-up between that and the tact of diffusing an awkward encounter. Next, he begins dropping by unannounced without there being an indication of having exchanged addresses. The hindsight: he overhears the delivery order and, like the idiot savant that he is, commits it to memory. Unfolding with a focused simplicity and a concise delivery, the hook of the film is allowed to sink in early. And snugly. The film’s draw following that is the awkward but familiar and relatable experience of running into old (long forgotten) acquaintances. The tension of how a gesture might come across, how a signal could be perceived, how intentions are discerned, is real and evident from the get-go. Quite why Simon, seemingly versed in the art of smooching and ascending corporate ladders, doesn’t go for a clean break immediately is perhaps likely due to his preoccupations at his new job. Because while at work, Gordo stops by to drop housewarming gifts, and soon enough, those intrusions become a regular social call where he gets a real look inside, and offers help around the house along with decoration tips. And Robyn is somehow unalarmed by an increasing familiarity flying in the face of norms, acceptable boundaries, and, later, Simon’s discomfort.
Things come to a head following two episodes, first during a dinner invitation at Gordon’s house, and, later, the disappearance of the family’s dog. I suppose trust and gaslighting are the overarching themes which, combined with the subject of the past, can only mean there are skeletons to uncover. The twist here is whose past is the darkest? Gordo’s, which doesn’t add up at any point? Robyn’s pill addiction resurfacing from a past life in Chicago? It’s someone else’s altogether and there is a juicy element to unearthing adolescent indiscretions that still hang over one’s head well into adulthood. And what qualifies as a twist comes as open to interpretation and an exercise in audience participation. I liked that involvement of “did he or did he not do it?” and you can make of the ending what you may. Gordo doing anything to hurt Robyn is given no precedence, except that, by standing by and staging his revenge while she’s out, he sort of does. So on the one hand, it goes against character for him to directly harm her but there is an active negligence taking place. Perhaps he should have called an ambulance. After all it’s been on brand for him the entire time to show up unannounced.
Sometimes rowdy, sometimes pouty.