Jessie’s Saturday Night Fright Flick: Sam Raimi’s THE GIFT

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Horror movie maiden Jessie Robbins picks a flick for a Saturday night.

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THE GIFT (2000)

Have you ever read a story or watched a movie that was so spooky your eyes watered a little?  Not like out of sadness, that’s not what I mean.  And not that happy-crying either.  It’s very specific.  It’s like you’ve just read something SO SCARY that you feel that little pin-prick in your eye-holes, and the tears well up just a little bit?  THE GIFT has one of those moments for me.

THE GIFT is a slow-burn horror film about Annie (Cate Blanchett), a mild-mannered widow with three boys who makes a living reading cards for her neighbours in a small southern town.  Things go awry however when a woman goes missing, and Annie is recruited to help find out what happened to her, and when the woman is eventually found murdered, Annie becomes plagued with terrifying visions.

 The all-star cast includes: Cate Blanchett, Greg Kinnear, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, J. K. Simmons and Gary Cole.  There’s a little taste of romance, an abusive relationship, extra-marital affection and a violin-heavy score.  This sounds like a Hallmark-esque, W Network kind of film, doesn’t it?  What if I told you it was written by Tom Epperson and uh… Billy Bob Thornton, would that make it sound a bit more edgy?  Or how about if I told you who directed it?  You might know him, he did some work with Spiderman, directed a film about a banker just trying to get ahead in her career, and is most famous for a little *gem* about a group of teenagers who travel to a cabin in the woods for a romantic weekend getaway.

Guys, this is a Sam Raimi flick…

I first watched THE GIFT when I was about 11 or 12, and was immediately taken in by the lulling score and muted, blue-toned cinematography.  A ghost story at heart, THE GIFT  deals in suspense and mystery above all else, so don’t expect blood and guts.  It wasn’t until a few years later, when I was a bit more well-versed in film trivia that while watching this with friends I gasped as the opening credits boasted Thornton and Raimi.  I sat there throughout the whole film trying to find any “Raimi-isms”, any over the top beasties, any excess of bodily fluids, any slapstick.  Not a thing.  If it wasn’t for Annie driving her Delta 88 all over town I might have thought this was a different Sam Raimi.

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Based on Thornton’s own mother’s experiences as a psychic (which I would absolutely LOVE to learn more about), THE GIFT explores life as a psychic in a small town, where loyalty abounds, but criticism and fear lurk around every corner.  As a result of the murder, Annie is catapulted into legal proceedings where she must validate her abilities in front of a skeptical courtroom, and try to find justice for a crime she is haunted by every night.

Although this film is matched relatively evenly with great and poor performances (or should I say great and poor accents), one great stands out significantly over the rest and alone makes the film worth a watch.  Keanu Reeves plays Donnie Barksdale, a redneck and abuser to his wife, Valerie (Hilary Swank).  After Valerie visits Annie a few times, Keanu comes knocking, and is seriously terrifying.  For someone who does a good job of playing *himself* in almost every role, Reeves is completely different as Barksdale.  Abusive, racist, and cold blooded.  Another great performance goes to Giovanni Ribisi for his portrayal of Buddy Cole, great friend and fierce protector of Annie and her boys, no one does outbursts like Ribisi.

Annie’s dream and vision sequences are set up so subtly, with such a dark and damp atmosphere, they are where most of the scares come from, prepare for scary-tears.

THE GIFT is not for everyone, definitely not for Raimi-ists who don’t want to stray from his signature style.  And definitely not for those who like their horror fast and loose.  But if you’ve trusted my suggestions so far, throw caution to the wind, get nice and cozy on your couch with some popcorn and a teddy bear and enjoy THE GIFT.