Saturday, 4 October 2014

Movie Review: The Gift (2000)


A suspense thriller with horror elements set in the deep south where the supernatural lurks side by side with unevolved society, The Gift rises well above the swamp thanks to a spooky Sam Raimi ambiance and a stellar cast.

Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) is a struggling single mother of three boys in the rural town of Brixton, deep in the American south. Annie has an extra-sensory gift, and makes a living of sorts as a fortune card reader. Her clients include Valerie (Hilary Swank), who is being regularly physically abused by her violent husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves), and the dim-witted town mechanic Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi), a deeply troubled former victim of child abuse.

The local school principal Wayne (Greg Kinnear) is engaged to the haughty Jessica (Katie Holmes), unaware that Jessica is sleeping around behind his back. Donnie seriously resents Annie advising Valerie to leave him, and starts to threaten Annie and her sons. When Brixton is rocked by the mysterious disappearance of one of its most prominent citizens, the baffled authorities turn to Annie for help. She works with the sceptical sheriff Pearl Johnson (J.K. Simmons) and prosecutor David Duncan (Gary Cole) to seek justice, which proves to be dangerously elusive.

Co-written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, The Gift draws its energy from a gothic setting drenched in deep southern fog. The town is small and isolated, the houses are cluttered, and folks are poor, uneducated and many are more than willing to accept the intervention of the supernatural. On this platform Raimi builds a fairly traditional story of murder most foul, and his stellar cast does the rest, transforming what could have been routine into a higher quality trip through the marshlands.

The film creates a stream of enjoyable suspense punctuated by regular side trips into short sharp horror territory. Raimi does not hold back from conventional bumps-in-the-night and what's-behind-the-door thrills, but overall The Gift is more about mood and atmosphere than violence. Annie's frequent extrasensory visions drive the mystery forward, and are executed with salacious panache.

The film ends with a ghostly intervention that is either a step too far from what most phantoms are capable of, or an allegorical strength-through-conviction punch line. Either way, it's an interesting challenge and talking point.

Blanchett gives Annie the haunted look of a woman scraping together a living, while understanding that her gift is a thin line away from being a curse. Her ability to sense what may be the past, the present or the future is not to be personally celebrated, but rather a barely controllable capacity to experience the agony of others.

Blanchett is surrounded by talent in all the supporting roles, Reeves particularly fearsome as Donnie, the husband not far removed from caveman tendencies. Holmes oozes uncontrolled sexuality, Jessica a spoiled brat with misguided ambitions too big for a town like Brixton. Swank is a women living with brutality because that is all she knows, and Ribisi is intense as Buddy fights entirely different demons.

A mix of the morose and the metaphysical shrouded with the phantasmal, The Gift is worth receiving.






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