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Halloween Movie Review #15: The Gift

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Widow Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) makes money to support her kids by giving psychic readings and counseling to her neighbors on her back porch. When young Jessica King (Katie Holmes) ends up missing, the police reluctantly call on her to help them find her. What she finds isn’t pretty.

The Gift boasts a cavalcade of stars, many being favorites of director Sam Raimi: J.K Russell, Giovanni Ribisi, Greg Kinnear, Hillary Swank, Keanu Reeves, Gary Cole…and even Aunt May herself, Rosemary Harris, makes a brief appearance. It almost feels like he’s auditioning actors for Spiderman. Billy Bob Thornton – who Raimi directed in A Simple Plan two years earlier – co-wrote the screenplay.

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Such a cast of experienced actors brings an air of realism and subtlety to each of these characters, nearly all of whom are troubled in some way by some pretty heavy problems. In Annie’s readings, there’s not a singly lost kitten in the bunch.

Here, Blanchett shines as a wholly sympathetic and strong character, burdened by the problems of her neighbors as well as her own. She gets repeatedly threatened, thanked, sworn at and praised in such rapid-fire succession that for much of the film Annie seems just on the edge of losing it. Raimi keeps the camera close on her eyes, which pulls you straight into her heart.

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It could’ve been a standard potboiler ghost story – and, at its core, the plot isn’t terribly original – but deep and careful character development elevate this film into high drama. You feel for everyone in this story, whose problems are as real and as grounded as those in your own neighborhood. You even sympathize with the “villains,” who aren’t painted with the broad strokes so typical of the genre.

I’ve always admired Raimi’s versatility. Coming from delightfully inventive swish-pan silliness of The Evil Dead films, he’s proven a restrained and deliberate director of drama as well. The pacing reminded me of A Simple Plan, with a supernatural feel akin to Zemeckis’s What Lies Beneath. This one is a drama/mystery/supernatural tale all rolled up into one, and a fantastic one at that, even if it’s relatively obvious who the killer turns out to be.

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Now that you’ve seen the film…

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It’s interesting how Raimi makes a quick turn into a full-on ghost story at the very end. Buddy’s plight was the saddest of all, and the wraparound from the beginning really worked for me.

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