The Gift Review
After witnessing the merciless flogging to death of the horror genre by the teen market in the last five years, it is very refreshing to witness a Hollywood thriller that is well written, well acted and well directed and doesn’t pander to cheap scares. The Gift is co-written by the talented Billy Bob Thornton and directed by Sam Raimi. Raimi earned his reputation through The Evil Dead, and his previous two efforts – A Simple Plan and For Love Of The Game, were excellent films of their respected genres. The Gift is masterful as both a psychological horror and a thriller, and has been strongly overlooked by the public.
Cate Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a mother of three whose husband died in a factory explosion a year ago. Annie has relied upon her earnings as a tarot reading psychic/fortune teller. One of Annie’s clients is Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) a woman who frequently suffers serious beatings from Donnie (Keanu Reeves) her redneck thug of a husband. Donnie has warned Valerie not to visit Annie and has threatened Annie to make sure she leaves Valerie alone. In the meantime, Annie’s eldest child is having trouble at school, and his teacher Wayne Collins (Greg Kinnear) is concerned. Wayne is set to marry sexy young Jessica Starlet (Katie Holmes), who herself is having an affair with a shift prosecutor (Gary Cole). To add further spice to the mix, another of Annie’s clients is Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), a suicidal mechanic who has is finding it hard to deal with the parental abuse he suffered when he was young. Soon however, Jessica King goes missing, and after the incompetent police force use up every link, they are forced to ask Annie if her psychic abilities can help lead to Jessica.
The Gift works because the script is straight to the point and contains little padding. Watching it for a second time reveals many clues that are oblivious to you upon first viewing, demonstrating the superior plot structuring of the script. The characters are so well cast and realistic that no one feels out of place, and the directing by Sam Raimi is first rate. Instead of pandering to frenetic out-of-the-blue scares, Raimi convinces us that the material is scary, and the film is tense and engrossing throughout. Raimi is proving himself the master at reliably making decent films, and his fans cannot wait to see his take on the big screen version of Spider Man due to be released later this year, even if the dull Tobey Maguire has been cast as Peter Parker.
The art direction is the usual for this type of film - dense woodlands, murky swamps and creepy, thunder-stricken huts. The Gift is all the better for this stereotypical Georgian setting, and is a credit to the genre, like all of the film's departments. Overall, The Gift is a sleeper hit, it gained little attention but will be fondly cherished by genre fans who value substance over style, and as a notch in the career of Sam Raimi, it doesn't disappoint.
Presented in anamorphic 1.85:1 widescreen, the Gift is an acceptable enough transfer but feels a little washed out compared to the cinema version. Colours aren’t as vibrant as they could be and the film suffers a little because of this.
Consumers have a choice between a 5.1 mix or a 2.0 mix, and the 5.1 mix helps to accentuate the heavier, more tense moments, such as eerie screechings and the haunting music score. The 2.0 mix has a more condensed feel to it which is of course expected, but even so, the sounds on both mixes are crystal clear and very good.
Menu: A spookily animated menu that morphs all of the characters faces into one another and has eerily-tinged music to accompany it.
Packaging: Given the usual Paramount Widescreen Collection amaray template, the case is uninspiring, and follows the rental tradition of merely throwing the faces of all of the cast on the cover rather than incorporating any poster artwork like the Region 2 release.
The Trailer manages to paint the picture of the film without giving any major plot details away, which is always a good thing.
The Gift: A Look Inside A rather good interview featurette considering its small length of fifteen minutes. Interviews are with all of the major cast members and Sam Raimi and are quite interesting. What is good is that the obligatory footage from the film is kept to a minimum.
Music Video The music video is of a very kooky group named Neko Case & Her Boyfriends and the song they are performing is Furnace Room Lullaby, a haunting track that is best described as a very dark Dido meets Enya. Nice to have rather than to have not, but the song isn't memorable and neither is the video.
The Gift is a vastly underrated psychological horror/thriller that deserves to be held as a modern day classic of the genre. The acting and directing are superb and the script in particular is extremely slick and well crafted. The extras are particularly lacking for a modern day film, considering that most productions have occurred during the era of DVDs and that studios should be preparing better extras. Even so, The Gift would be worth owning even if it was a bare bones disc, as it is a top-notch example of thrilling entertainment.