Sam Raimi avoids the camp of the "Evil Dead" trilogy to deliver some serious scares in "The Gift," a Southern-Gothic ESP thriller that stars Cate Blanchett in the role of Annie, a psychic living in a small town.
When local flake Jessica King (Katie Holmes) gets murdered, Annie's sixth sense acts up, leading the authorities to one man: resident wife-beater and town redneck Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves). Of course, Donnie's not the one who done it, and with her power under scrutiny, Annie must find the real killer before she, too, becomes a victim.
The strength of this movie is that it avoids the pitfalls of modern horror films. First of all, Annie isn't the usual ditzy, flaky, slutty heroine, who along with her group of dumb friends has a total IQ of 50. She behaves in an admirable and most of all, INTELLIGENT way.
It's probably not too hard to figure out who the real killer is, but there are fun -- if maybe typically "Southern-Gothic" -- characters to follow, including town headcase Buddy (Giovonni Ribisi), who -- with the help of Annie -- is trying to dredge up old memories that might hold the key to his fractured mind.
Donnie's beaten wife, Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank) puts Annie and her three boys in danger when she keeps showing up despite volatile Donnie's threats. Meanwhile, the victim's haggard fiance Wayne (Greg Kinnear) tries to carry on the best way he can.
Secondly, the jump-scares are pretty well-thought-out, not childish and predictable like in a lot of horror films. Call me crazy, but of all the scares scattered throughout the film -- the dripping blood, the waterlogged corpse, the surprise attack by the real killer, and the dream-sequence fiddler -- scared the f**k out of me.
Overall, "The Gift" is a fun thriller which occasionally hints at something more meaningful. The whole cast (including Keanu Reeves) performs admirably, and are backed by a solid script (co-written by Billy Bob Thornton) and Sam Raimi's directing. It is unfairly dismissed by audiences and deserves more attention than it gets.