The script for The Gift comes from Billy Bob Thornton and ventures back into the Southern Gothic territory that Thornton charted with Sling Blade (1996) and to some extent in A Family Thing (1996) a Gothic of small Southern towns filled with rednecks, Bible Bashers, wife-beaters and sexual abuse. One suspects that The Gift is an old Billy Bob Thornton script as, other than the virtue of its setting, it is an ordinary rehash of the standard clairvoyant murder mystery that has been done to death on film and especially tv movies with little in the way of novel or original treatments. The Gift is not an exception to any of these. Sam Raimi at least keeps the suspense moving competently throughout the middle of the film but the revelation of the killers identity at the end is decidedly underwhelming.
Sam Raimi makes a novelty out of its smalltown Georgia setting. While interestingly conveyed, it also seems an unreally affected vision of Georgia, one where the entire town is in danger of being overrun by moss trees and bayous, while a Southern score intrusively and repetitively twangs away on the soundtrack. Sam Raimis saving grace is an impressive cast line-up. Australian actress Cate Blanchett in particular more than ably carries the film she gives complete conviction in the part of the poor solo mother trying to cope with raising three children alone. There are fine supporting performances from J.K. Simmons, Michael Jeter and Giovanni Ribisi. There is also a surprisingly good performance from Keanu Reeves who, with The Watcher (2000) around the same time, seemed to be effectively moving away from sex symbol casting and discovering himself as an actor in villainous roles.
There could have been a good film here. However, the problem is oddly Sam Raimi himself. While The Gift is a competently made thriller, its scares are irritatingly bland, consisting mostly of loud bangs on the soundtrack. There is a scene early on where Katie Holmes asks Cate Blanchett what her marriage to Greg Kinnear holds and a pencil rolls off a table in momentous slow-motion and its giant shadow is seen crossing Cates face it is a ludicrously overblown piece of foreshadowing that verges on the laughable. Its just when you compare The Gift to Evil Deads I & II, it seems all the more disappointing. The Evil Dead films were masterworks of popcorn enthusiasm made by a young talent bursting with sheer exuberance; The Gift feels like it is made by a staid, middle-of-the-road director who is conducting an experiment in genre with no understanding of the genres cliches and pitfalls whatsoever.
Sam Raimis other genre films include:- the horror film The Evil Dead (1982) and its sequels The Evil Dead II (1987) and Army of Darkness (1992); the bizarre cartoonish crime drama Crimewave (1985); the dark superhero film Darkman (1990); the trilogy of Marvel Comics adaptations Spider-Man (2002), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007); the horror film Drag Me to Hell (2009); and Oz: The Great and Powerful (2013). Raimi also co-wrote the Coen Brothers fantasy film The Hudsucker Proxy (1994) and produces the zombie film The Dead Dont Die (1989) under the pseudonym The Master Cylinder. Sam Raimi has also had some success with his Renaissance Pictures production company, who have been particularly enterprising in the field of television fantasy. Theatrically, Renaissance have produced the bizarre Lunatics: A Love Story (1991), John Woos American debut Hard Target (1993) and the Van Damme time-travelling action film Timecop (1993). On television, Renaissance have produced such genre works as the superhero series M.A.N.T.I.S. (1994-6), the smalltown Deviltry show American Gothic (1995) and then had enormous hits with the dual successes of the tongue-in-cheek revisitings of Greek myth and sword and sorcery with Hercules: The Legendary Journeys (1994-9) and Xena: Warrior Princess (1995-2001). These were followed by similar tongue-in-cheek series as Young Hercules (1998-2000), the futuristic Cleopatra 2525 (2000-2), the historical romp Jack of All Trades (2000-1) and the Evil Dead tv spinoff Ash vs Evil Dead (2015-8). Raimi has also formed the Ghost House Pictures production company and co-produced the likes of the American remake of The Grudge (2004), Boogeyman (2005), The Messengers (2007), Rise (2007), 30 Days of Night (2007), The Possession (2012), Evil Dead (2013), Poltergeist (2015), Dont Breathe (2016) and the tv series Legend of the Seeker (2008-10) and 13: Fear is Real (2009).
(Nominee for Best Actress (Cate Blanchett) at this sites Best of 2000 Awards).