The Gift is a murder-mystery with a touch of psychological thriller mixed in. It’s only the latter because the main character, Annie (Cate Blanchett), has psychic powers, which she uses in her “readings” in order to earn money. She flips over cards and tells the person something about him or herself, either in the past or in the future, based on what she “sees.” There’s no doubting these powers exist, and the film isn’t really about whether or not she has them. It’s about finding a missing woman, Jessica (Katie Holmes), and the powers occasionally factor into that.
Annie is someone who is raising her kids on her own. She has three boys, which could be a handful, and although she gets welfare checks now that her husband passed away, she still needs to work. Paying for psychic readings is illegal where she lives, so she accepts “donations” instead, a legal loophole that one character points out makes her more of a lawyer than a psychic. We meet a bunch of her clients, the school principal (Greg Kinnear), the abusive husband of one of her clients (Keanu Reeves), and before you know it, Jessica is missing and we’ve got a murder mystery.
Not only that, but we also have a film with a bunch of creepy imagery thanks to these visions that Annie has. This is where the psychological thriller comes into play. She gets to see things every now and then that spook both her and us, while also revealing a touch more about the crime. It Jessica dead? Did the abusive man, who previously threatened Annie, do it? You have to watch to find out.
It’s all misdirection anyway, even after the presumed perpetrator is thrown behind bars. You know things can’t end that way, especially because there was no previous connection between the victim and alleged murderer. So, after the crime is solved, we get another 30 minutes of film containing nothing of surprise, as the film becomes even more formulaic than it already was. You won’t guess who’s behind it all unless you have seen a lot of these before, as the film doesn’t give you any hints regarding who did it.
It’s essentially the worst type of misdirection. The best kinds of these films allow you to figure it out even if they’re trying to mislead you. The clues are all there, and you have to look hard to find them. Then, when all is revealed, you don’t feel cheated; you feel inspired to watch again and look for all the things you missed which would have led you to the conclusion that the movie came up with.
The Gift doesn’t do that. It leads you in one direction and gives you nothing in regards to what actually took place. It holds your hand the entire way, not allowing you to move an inch. It’s because Annie is the one we’re focused on, and her “gift” is what makes her important. We see what she sees, and therefore aren’t allowed to have any other clues or opinions. That’s all well and good, but in a murder mystery, we need that ambiguity, and we need to be thinking the whole time. With a film as linear and simple as this one, there’s no room for the brain to get involved.
Essentially, because of the way that The Gift tells its story, and the decision by the people behind it to use this method, there’s no mystery to this murder. We can’t get involved because there’s a magical power that will do all of our thinking for us. It will reveal what the story needs to tell us whenever it is convenient, and that is that. There is nothing for us to do but sit back and enjoy. And while it’s kind of an interesting plot with a fun idea, it’s not all that engaging on an emotional or intellectual level.
Characters are introduced and subplots happen so as to mislead us. Take one of Annie’s patients, a man who needs medication to get over some sort of childhood trauma. Then, at one point in the film, he decides that he’s going to burn his father alive. Therefore, I guess, he’s a suspect. Although he has no connection to the victim, we have to suspect him — and the film wants us to think that even though there’s no reason for him to have done it. Same for the person actually convicted, except he had a personal grudge against Annie.
See, the whole concept of Annie having a “vision” about the man whom she personally disliked could have been interesting. She could have been making it all up to fuel her own needs, which is something that psychics are always accused of, in large part with the personal gain being monetary. However, that’s a concept that is rarely brought up and not at all pivotal to the story, as it’s discarded almost as soon as it is mentioned. She’s having the visions and that is the only fact we have.
The Gift is a film with some creepy and spooky imagery, but apart from that it’s a mundane murder mystery that you have very little reason to watch. It has no way to engage you on either an intellectual or an emotional level. It doesn’t allow for you to think or question what the characters are saying, and apart from the aforementioned creepy imagery — typical of a Sam Raimi film — there is nothing that’s actually worth your time. Skip The Gift and do something more worth your time.