Cate Blanchett plays Annie Wilson, a widow from rural Georgia who has the gift of second sight. She supports her three sons by doing readings with cards, so she hears a lot of problems and secrets. Her clients include Valerie Barksdale (Hilary Swank), a battered wife and Buddy Cole (Giovanni Ribisi), a troubled garage mechanic.
The local belle, Jessica King (Katie Holmes), disappears, and her father, her fiancé, and the police come to Annie to ask if she can help them find her. Annie sees nothing at first, but later she is able to lead them to a pond on the property of Valerie’s abusive husband, Donnie (Keanu Reeves). Annie’s testimony helps to convict Donnie, but then she begins to get visions that lead her to believe that Donnie was not the killer.
Director Sam Raimi is a master of horror and suspense. He knows how to make the bayou trees hang down ominously and the heavy mist and mournful violins prickle the hairs on the back of your neck. This is one of those movies where someone hears a funny noise inside the house and goes in to investigate, where someone agrees to go to a deserted pond on a rainy night, where a child asks, “Is everything going to be all right now?” and is reassured that it is, despite the fact that there is still about half an hour to go in the movie and it’s pretty clear that it isn’t going to be spent showing how relieved and happy everyone is to have it all over.
The plot is a little predictable, but first-class atmosphere and performances make it a superior entry in the horror genre. Cate Blanchett is quietly moving and completely convincing as a woman who is at times more at home with her second sight than with her first. Giovanni Ribisi gives great depth and humanity to the part of the troubled mechanic who sees Annie as his only friend. Keanu Reeves struggles to appear menacing, but manages to do better when he has to testify in the murder case. Katie Holmes shows her ability to create a complete character with the toss of her hair as the glossy Veronica to Annie’s Betty.
Parents should know that the movie is very scary, with a lot of tense moments, characters in peril, jump-out-at-you surprises and fake-out twists and turns. There is a nude dead body, a battered wife, an an inexplicit scene of characters having sex, and a reference to child sexual abuse. A character is doused with gasoline and then lit. The movie has very strong language, including a racist and anti-Semitic comment.
Families who see the movie should talk about why people go to see Annie. It seems that they care more about being listened to and heard than about hearing what she has to say. Why are Valerie and Buddy unable to help themselves? What are their options? Annie faces a moral dilemma when she realizes that Donnie is not the murderer. How does she handle it? Should she have warned Jessica about what she saw with her ESP? Should she have warned Wayne about what she saw at the country club? Annie tells others that they should face up to their problems, yet she has a hard time talking to her children about her late husband. How does that change?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Sixth Sense” and “Don’t Look Now.”