Director Sam Raimi pours on the suspense in a glass of Southern Comfort with this star-driven supernatural thriller.
A single mother of three, Annie Wilson (Cate Blanchett) gives psychic card readings to the local townsfolk to make ends meet. Born with "the gift," she is able to glimpse into the past, present or future. But her bucolic Southern lifestyle is disrupted when her friend Valerie's (Hilary Swank) abusive husband Donnie (Keanu Reeves) threatens her family and accuses her of witchcraft. In addition, with the local principal's (Greg Kinnear) fiancée missing (Katie Holmes) amid rumors of foul play, Annie's world is turned upside down as she experiences jarring visions of a dead body. Unwittingly becoming the key witness to a murder no one saw, she must solve the crime before becoming a victim herself.
Embodying a working-class single mom grappling with otherworldly horrors, Blanchett delivers a memorable performance and successfully conceals her Australian accent with a convincing Southern drawl. School principal Kinnear's clean-cut image feels a little out of place in this Savannah-adjacent story, but contextually reveals itself to be a good fit. In a small but pivotal role, Swank secures her Oscar win as no fluke, and Reeves, sporting a good 'ol boy beard and baseball cap, is surprisingly menacing as her abusive husband. Quickly sweeping memories of "The Mod Squad" under the rug, garage mechanic Giovanni Ribisi provides an unexpectedly powerful balance of tenderness and rage. Rounding out the cast is town tart Holmes, who provides ample skin and a jarring departure from her good-girl "Dawson's Creek" image.
Creating an uneven bookend to the masterful "A Simple Plan," helmer Raimi nonetheless bounces back nicely from the commercial blandness of "For Love of the Game," tapping his horror-film roots to create a suspenseful, character-driven story. Working from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson's "Dead Zone"-reminiscent screenplay (the two writers collaborated on "One False Move"), Raimi has created a real crowd-pleaser, effectively transcending the genre-trappings of the script. Employing techniques only a suspense veteran could predict, Raimi works all the tricks in the book, not above a little audience manipulation to squeeze the most out of this supernatural whodunit.
The best knee-jerker since "What Lies Beneath," this fun flick is the perfect holiday "Gift" -- but probably just as disposable.