The Gift (2000)
It's not often that you come across a horror film that tells a story with intelligence and is more concerned with the people in the story than splattering blood and guts all over the screen. Well The Gift is one of the better horror films of recent years, and with names like Sam Raimi and Billy Bob Thornton behind the scenes, well, it's almost expected that's it of high quality.
Annie (Cate Blanchett) is a psychic reader in a small town in the South, whose clientele consists mostly of the troubled people in town looking for answers. One of these is Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank), who looks to Annie for advice when her husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves) beats her. Donnie doesn't much care for Annie, calling her a witch and threatening physical violence if she continues to speak with his wife.
One day a young woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) goes missing, and one of Annie's haunting visions leads the woman's fiancee Wayne (Greg Kinnear) and local law enforcement to a pond on Donnie Barksdale's property, where her body is found. Donnie is fairly quickly convicted of the crime, but once he's in jail, Annie doesn't feel any better, and she's beginning to think that Donnie may not have killed her at all. Another of her clients, a mentally unstable young man named Buddy (Giovanni Ribisi) has been acting especially strange lately, and Annie saw the prosecutor (Gary Cole) having sex with Jessica the night before her death. Meanwhile, she's also been having increasingly disturbing nightmares involving water and strangulation, and she fears for her own life.
The Gift is really quite well done. The acting is pretty stellar, especially surprising to me, since the cast contains two actors, Keanu Reeves and Giovanni Ribisi, whose work I'm generally not fond of, but everyone holds their weight here. There are several taut, suspenseful scenes that get the heart rate going with fearful anticipation, and the reason they are so effective is because of the character buildup that has taken place prior.
A lot of filmmakers believe that to scare the audience, you must show something scary on screen, but the scariest stuff always resides in the mind of the viewer, and director Raimi knows that, and puts this knowledge to good use. Fans of conventional horror films with vampires, demons, and zombies probably won't find what they're looking for in The Gift, but fans of psychological thrillers will be more than pleased with what The Gift offers.
April 12, 2005