Director – Sam Raimi
Cast – Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reeves, Hillary Swank, Greg Kinnear, Katie Holmes, Michael Jeter, Kim Dickens, Gary Cole, J.K. Simmons
Release Year – 2001
Reviewed by John of the Dead
Horror legend Sam Raimi made his name writing and directing the infamous “Evil Dead Trilogy” which consists of The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness. He furthered his horror genius by giving us one of 2009’s coolest horror films and one of the best horror flicks of last decade, Drag Me To Hell. Well, few people seem to remember a little horror film from 2000 that was given to us by this “Maestro of Demons” as I call him, titled The Gift. This film is not the usual Raimi flick, but still comes off as a great watch thanks to his great direction and just maybe the star-studded cast helped a bit. Heh.
This flick stars Cate Blanchett as Annabelle, a psychic and single mom living in a small southern town. When her main client Valerie(Hillary Swank)’s abusive husband Donnie(Keanu Reeves) begins threatening Annabelle over her abilities, she is forced into a battle between her lonesome and a town that wants her and her “Devilish” ways out of town. One day a local woman named Jessica(Katie Holmes) goes missing and Annabelle is summoned by the girl’s father to help him locate Jessica. Annabelle sees Jessica’s dead body lying in a lake, a lake owned by Donnie and Valerie. When Annabelle’s information proves true, Donnie is arrested and put on trial for Jessica’s murder. However, as Annabelle continues to have haunting visions over Jessica’s death she realizes that Donnie may not be the killer, and the killer may be someone much closer to her.
Simply put, Sam Raimi is a master of direction. His fun and exciting use of cinematography in this film is mind-boggling and shows the true genius that he is. He found a way to mix in a whole bunch of characters and still get pretty darn good performances out of each and every actor including a very CONVINCING performance from Keanu Reeves himself. Yes, you read right, Keanu! Anyone who can get Keanu Reeves to put forth a great performance as a wife-abusing redneck deserves a shot at running for President, just don’t take away my guns Mr. Raimi!
Written by Billy Bob Thornton himself along with Tom Epperson, this film’s screenplay is another strong aiding factor in its great use of characters. I saw no truly useless characters as each had a strong part to fill regardless of on-screen runtime. It is rare that we get positive usage of seldom used characters but great writing and direction can do that for you folks. To further prove this, this flick was set up for failure from the beginning, but instead excelled. Failure I say? Yes. This film is part courtroom drama, outsider/loner drama, horror/supernatural, and who’dunnit mystery all in one. When you mix that many different elements and genre/sub-genres together, you are asking for failure. Once again this was accomplished perfectly by sensible writing and Sam Raimi’s great and convincing direction.
Story-wise I really dug this film, even though I am not much into the “psychic/ESP” type of horror as I am for other horror sub-genres. I do still enjoy the psychic element, and it worked good for this film, just don’t expect the psychic element to be as horrific as other films. This is not the “tell someone they are going to die in three days” type psychic horror, but simply just Annabelle having slowly increasing visions of the murder and how it went down and with who as the culprit. It is more of a mystery-esque psychic element, but with horrific visuals thrown in thanks to Sam Raimi. Annabell’s conflict is felt heavily by the viewer thanks to her performance as well as the positive performances around her. Her past shows that her life is not easy, and her living in a deeply “religious” town only adds to her stress.
Some of you may not like the “happy” elements thrown into this flick if you are expecting the usual classic Raimi hijinks, so keep that in mind before giving this flick a watch. This is a Hollywood film(can’t you tell just by the cast alone?) and you can imagine the re-writes and producer influence Raimi had to go through to get this one done. Nonetheless it is cool to see him do this kind of film and still make this a much better watch that most of the junk that comes out of Hollywood these days. My one big complaint against this film was its cop-out ending. I really expected more from the final act of the film, and it left quite a few elements wide open, especially that of Donnie(Keanu Reeve’s character). Naturally, once Annabelle begins having doubts as to whether or not he killed Jessica his character was no longer the main supporting focus of the film, I still could not believe :possible spoiler approaching: that he was basically completely written out of the third act. This eliminated any conflict, among other things, that could have been added to the film on his behalf that could have made this an even better watch. Oh well, I just expected that a near two hour film would have provided a better and more satisfying climax than this film did. Of course, this is Hollywood, and we all know that with Hollywood it is not “all’s well that ends well” but “all’s well that profits well”.
Overall, this is a great flick that I recommend to all fans of Sam Raimi who would like to see a non-traditional Raimi horror film that still excels in all levels of direction. With a star-studded cast and a cool story, this flick is simply a fun one to watch.