SCORE: 2 Stars
Be honest now. Have you had one conversation with anybody about the movie The Gift? I know I haven't. But, that's kind of strange considering the following:
1) The Gift stars high-octane actress Cate Blanchett. She was nominated for an Oscar for Elizabeth and gives another Oscar caliber performance here.
2) Cate's co-stars include the box office magnet Keanu Reeves, as well as Oscar winner Hilary Swank (Boys Don't Cry) and the usually likable Greg Kinnear.
3) The screenplay is by Oscar winner Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson.
4) The movie is directed by cult favorite Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead 2, A Simple Plan).
5) The Gift has been out in wide release for six weeks.
I think I know why no one is talking about The Gift. Paramount did a poor job marketing the film. I only saw one theatrical trailer. Paramount made it look like a Sixth Sense rip-off (which it isn't). On the contrary, The Gift is a well made horror/thriller in the genre of The Sixth Sense.
Truth be told, The Gift is not as good as M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 blockbuster. But, it has a lot of scares. On the creepy scale I would rank The Gift slightly higher than The Sixth Sense. The difference between the films is a matter of subtlety. Raimi uses every trick in the Hollywood Horror Manual to disturb the audience. One of his favorite tactics is the "startling noise from nowhere" trick. After awhile, it's really quite unnerving. You never know when the Dolby Digital speaker three feet from your head is going to explode. When Raimi combines startling sound with disturbing imagery, the result is manipulative, but effective. After all, the audience is presumably there to be scared.
The plot in The Gift is inconsequential. In fact, it's kind of a lame murder mystery. The performances range from Oscar caliber to disappointing. Blanchett is the best thing about The Gift. She's very good at appearing frightened (important here). The big surprise is Keanu Reeves. For the first time, I can honestly say I enjoyed Keanu Reeves. He's a terrific villain. He also possesses a quality I didn't know he had. Reeves manages to look large and menacing on the screen. It's not like he went out and gained a bunch of weight or anything, he just looks imposing. Maybe it's one of Raimi's camera tricks (he seems to have a bunch).
I thought Kinnear was miscast. But, the most disappointing performance is Swank's. Perhaps her character is underwritten.
The Gift is no masterpiece, but it is good cinema. It is solid on a technical level and it succeeds at what it set out to do. It's a shame that this one is being completely ignored. I wish the Scream crowd would spend their money on The Gift. Instead, they're probably going to see Valentine in droves, making Friday night at our local Cinemark a nightmare.