The Gift
Rating: * * * 1/2 Director: Sam Raimi Running time: 119 minutes Language: English Now showing at Tokyu Bunka Kaikan and other theaters

After a career in directing splatterific horror and postmodern comic-book flicks ("Evil Dead," "Darkman," "The Quick and the Dead"), Sam Raimi seemed to have only two filmmaking modes: over-the-top and more over-the-top. However, with "A Simple Plan" in 1999 he proved he had range, delivering a fine-tuned suspense film that drew its strength from the subtleties of performance and a believable Joe Sixpack realism.

A large part of "A Simple Plan's" success -- and it was Raimi's first mainstream hit -- was the linchpin performance of Billy Bob Thornton. He's back collaborating with Raimi again as a screenwriter on "The Gift," a Southern supernatural thriller with an all-star cast. "The Gift" is no shocker, a la Raimi's earlier zombie flicks, but it sure is creepy, and if this one doesn't send a chill down your spine, then check your pulse, friend -- you must already be dead. (And if that's the case, please proceed to Cinema 2, where they're showing "Hannibal," a film made for zombies.)

Set in one of those all-too-small towns on the edge of a mist-shrouded swamp, where everybody knows everybody else's business, "The Gift" focuses on a single mother named Annie (Cate Blanchett), a tarot-card reader who works more like a low-rent psychoanalyst. Half of what she gives her clients is nothing more than a little sympathy; characters like the mentally ill grease-monkey Buddie (Giovanni Ribisi) or the white-trash battered-wife Valerie (Hilary Swank) certainly seem to need it.