The Gift (Sam Raimi, 2000)
[originally posted 26Nov2001]
Poor Sam Raimi. It doesn’t matter what he does to try and avoid being labelled a horror director; every film he makes will be compared to The Evil Dead. But then, in a perfect world, perhaps every review of every film ever made would contain a comparison to The Evil Dead, which is possibly the world’s best example of what you can do with fifty grand and a whole lot of beer.
So if you’re going to get compared to The Evil Dead for the rest of your life, do what Sam Raimi did: go back to the Evil Tree motif. Gotta love evil trees.
In this case, the evil tree stands in the yard of Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), a fortune teller in a small town in Georgia. Wilson has a seemingly-thriving business telling fortunes for local folk, dispensing a kind of half-presaging/half-advice to her clients. When her oldest child gets into trouble in school, she meets the principal, Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear), and his fiancee Jessica (Katie Holmes, looking as much like Ashley Judd as cosmetics can make her). Jessica soon goes missing, and Annie, psychic that she is, starts having some rather nasty visions. Imagine the twisted branches of the tree as a cinema screen and away you go.
The plot and characterization are pure Billy Bob Thornton; lots of Southern redneck drawl, lots of mental defectives, lots of people doing incredibly stupid things that they don’t think through that come back to haunt them. The film is perfectly cast, including a number of choices that seem odd on the surface (especially Blanchett; hard to imagine Queen Elizabeth as poor white trash, but it works), but that click quite well. The cast is high-caliber from soup to nuts, and they all play their roles to the hilt, including Giovanni Ribisi as an on-the-edge mechanic, Keanu Reeves as the jealous, abusive husband of Hilary Swank, and Gary Cole in his usual slimy role, this time as the town’s prosecuting attorney. J. K. Simmons (Dr. Skoda on Law and Order) turns up as the town sheriff and shows us once and for all that he really isn’t the open-minded psychiatrist he’s typecast as.
This one didn’t get nearly enough screen time when it came out. Now that it’s available on video, do yourself a favor and rent it. ****