On the Tenth Day of Halloween: THE GIFT (2000)
When you think of director Sam Raimi odds are high that his masterpiece of Southern gothic horror doesn’t even register in his top films. I mean, it’s hard to compete with The Evil Dead and Spider-Man after all. But I’d argue that one of his magnum opus is actually the criminally underrated The Gift (2000), from 2000.
Filmed on location in the deep Georgia bayous, the swamps are as much a character as the denizens of Brixton. Especially when the body of local debutante and belle of the balls (pun intended) vixen Jessica King is found dead, murdered and dumped in a mangrove-lined pond that belongs to town bad boy Donnie Barksdale (Keanu Reeves). The incompetent police department — this is not a copaganda movie in the least — grudgingly enlist the help of a local psychic named Annie (Cate Blanchett) to help them solve the case. A favor they use against the “town witch” the moment they can to demonize her, instead of, you know, figuring out who killed Jessica. Annie, fascinatingly, reads from a deck of Zener Cards, the same cards used at the beginning of Ghostbusters to test psychic abilities, and the effect is beautiful in a specifically gothic way.
The entire main cast deserved award nods for their performances in The Gift. In particular, Keanu Reeves as wife-beating town bully Donnie Barksdale is played so no-holds-barred by Reeves as to be physically uncomfortable to watch. In fact, he actually punched both Hilary Swank and Blanchett during filming — with their consent of course. The result is as visceral as it looks.
And the layers of Giovanni Ribisi’s Buddy are equally haunting and tragic as the layers of truth peel back. Enough so that even when I see the Blue Diamond almond milk at the store my stomach turns and I buy another brand.
There’s so much more. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to spoil the twists. Which are equal moving, disturbing, and lingering even now 23 years later.
Also, thanks to Keanu’s own Asian and Indigenous heritage, we have an important moment of Southern representation for both of these groups, a presence that gets very little mention in narratives about the South. After all, I’m a South Asian southerner myself now after having lived in Florida for 12 years, and I can count Asian representation in Southern tales on one hand.
The Gift is a must-watch not just for horror fans, but Keanu Reeves fans too, even if you aren’t into horror. It’s eerie, it’s heartbreaking, and Keanu is absolutely brilliant.
✨Water card/5 stars. Highly recommend getting your predicament read from an unusual deck.✨