The Gift (2000) — But where’s Raimi’s trademark chainsaw montage?

“You’ve had icing enough to put you in a coma.”

Andie’s rating: I used to like fiddle music. I love “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Now it just gives me the creeps.

Andie’s review: The Gift is a tightly woven mystery about a woman, Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett), who lives in a small town and makes her living giving people readings with her special cards, as she has a sort of ESP-like ability. When a young woman named Jessica King (Katie Holmes) disappears, Annie has visions of the her and leads the police to her body. Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves) is subsequently arrested and convicted for her murder because she was found on his property.

Yet Annie is still haunted by Jessica. She vows to find the real killer.

The reason this movie is so effective as a thriller is because it doesn’t go for cheap scares and it doesn’t feel like it must pile on the tension at every possible moment. I’ll admit it, it starts out really slow. But it has to establish who everyone is and what their relationships are in order for the plot to develop. Once the mystery gets rolling, though, it is tension-filled. There are lots of good “BOO!” scares and there are lots of good tension-build-up scares. The mystery is good because it leads you to believe that any number of people could be the killer and I don’t feel like it gives it away until the very end. There’s also a nice twist after the killer is revealed that I did not see coming and I really liked.

The cast in this movie is stellar. Cate Blanchett has already proven she is a wonderful actress and she doesn’t let us down in The Gift. Katie Holmes as Jessica King is fine. She’s cute and sassy and a little slutty, so no big stretch. Greg Kinnear plays her finance who just goes to pieces after she’s killed. I’ve always liked him a lot, he’s great. Keanu Reeves is also VERY creepy as the man who terrorizes Annie Wilson and is subsequently arrested for the murder. Hilary Swank is his wife that he beats up, she is marvelous as the scared, co-dependent woman who can’t get out of her situation.

But the real standout for me was Giovanni Ribisi. I have liked this guy in everything I’ve seen him in and The Gift is one of his finest performances. He plays a boy who is mentally disturbed that Annie tries to help. As they delve into his childhood, scary revelations come to life, leading to a climax that will absolutely sicken and terrify you. Ribisi did a fantastic job finding the dichotomy between disturbed, violent boy and loving, tender boy who clearly looks to Annie as his only friend.

The Gift is a great suspense thriller. I had to watch most of the second half of it clutching my friend’s hand. The music alone, especially the fiddles/violins is enough to give you nightmares for weeks. There’s this one part, in Annie’s dream, where all of a sudden the screechy fiddle music is played at warp speed that always gives me chills. You’ll see. If you’re a fan of scary movies, go rent this one for Halloween. You’ll like it.

Rich’s rating: You may redeem this voucher for 1 (one) murderer.

Rich’s review: Boy, is it ever February, which means its time for me to make good on another months worth of my New Years Resolution and get to reviewing a movie hand-picked with loving care and attention by those fine denizens of the Mutant Reviewers forums. Hero of the hour, forums regular DocD83 was able to step into the movie selecting breach last minute last month after dismal failures of everyone else to pick a movie, and directed me towards The Gift with the bold words “I like that movie, more people should watch it.” Well, Doc, this one’s for you buddy.

Before I start this review, I would like to point out that I’m in fine health. I have no real illnesses, I’m not delirious nor any more deranged than any normal child of my generation, and apart from a painful inability to manage my finances, I don’t suffer from any long standing mental problems with the exception of a phobia of moths and elevators and bridges.

I’m here to tell you now that the best reason to watch The Gift is for Keanu Reeves’ excellent acting in this film. No, really, stop laughing, and put down the phone and stop dialing the Mental Health Authorities. I couldn’t make this stuff up, I swear. I don’t know whether its the script, Sam Raimi’s direction, or just Hell momentarily freezing over, but in a film where the cast all puts in a number of fine performances, for me Keanu Reeves stood out as shockingly amazing. And its no block of wood emotionless Neo type character or Ted Theodore Logan either; Reeves plays a character of genuine depth and emotion with intensity and fire and other complimentary things that have me shaking my head even as I finish this paragraph.

I’m not going to go over the plot; Andie covers all the salient points above, and anything I add is probably likely to give people more information than they want; especially when the fun of this, like all murder mysteries, is trying to figure out who the bad apple in the barrel is before the film blatantly shows you them bashing in some innocents head with whatever their weapon of choice happens to be.

I really wanted this film to be bad, mainly so I could steal a great line from Angel and tell you that “if this were my Gift, I’d return it”. Actually, The Gift has a lot to recommend to it, not least the fine performances from all the cast, who together manage to play the biggest collection of weirdos and losers since my high school class, and not only make those characters believable, but in some cases strangely sympathetic as well. The settings are pretty lusciously creepy, and Sam Raimi knows his way around the camera enough to make sure you’ll be sliding closer and closer to the edge of your seat in certain places. If that weren’t enough, there’s a added bonus for teen boys everywhere as Dawson’s Creek heartthrob Katie Holmes schmoozes all over the film like big painted Jezebel, which is a wonderful thing in itself, and probably a good reason a number of DVD and VHS pause buttons are broken in households all over the world.

But for all this, The Gift only really struck me as entertaining-for-a-couple-of-hours-nothing-to-write-home-about, rather than something mind blowingly excellent. The plot has a few dues ex machina moments that made me feel like I was being lead around by the nose; also, Cate Blanchett’s character Annie does seem to make a number of the dumbest decisions in the history of bad decisions in horror films, which at times left me rooting for the anonymous murderer (murderers, perhaps, you’ll get no freebies from me) to cave in her pretty little head just to raise the average IQ of the rest of the human race by a few points.

The bottom line is, if you find yourself with a couple of hours to kill, and the opportunity to watch The Gift, do so. You’ll probably enjoy it, and it really is worth watching just for Keanu’s brilliantly passionate and scary portrayal of Donnie. I wouldn’t suggest anyone go beating down doors to get hold of a copy of this film, but if you like interesting, well thought out horror thriller types, you can’t go far wrong with this.

Plus, Katie Holmes.

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