This quiet supernatural thriller is full of surprises. The first one is that it was directed by Sam Rami. The second is that it was written by Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson. Next is the amazing cast involved. Starting with Cate Blanchett playing a psychic, add to that Keanu reeves playing a textbook wife beater-bully, Hilary Swank as his battered wife, Katie Holmes as a complex murder victim, and Greg Kinnear as her suffering fiancé. Even the supporting roles have Michael Jeter and J.K. Simmons. And if you can believe it, the film even has amazing film composer and Oingo Boingo front man Danny Elfman. But the man who stelas the show has to be Giovanni Ribisi playing an abused man with an affection for Blanchett’s character Anne.
When looking at this narrative, the term External Conflict comes to mind. Anne is a widow with kids and she’s just trying to make ends meet. She uses her talent to tell fortunes, her “Gift”, to make a living in her typical small Southern town catering to insecure, bored wives. As a matter of fact this film is filled with the whole cadre of Southern stereotypes: the wife beating redneck, the socialite sexpot, the handsome school principal, the abused wife, the dauntless police chief, and the whack ado gas station worker.
So the conflict in this film for Anne comes from outside forces that challenge her relative quiet stability. The wife beater threatens Anne and her children for telling his wife that she should leave him. The socialite sexpot goes missing and Anne gets caught up in the investigation due to the police having no clues, yet Anne is able to see visions of the dead body and is able to lead the police to where her body has been dumped. This in turn puts suspicion on Anne. You see the body is found in the wife beater’s pond. The police think she put it there to place suspicion on him due to his harassment. There’s a subplot involving a mentally unstable guy who seems to be a threat but turns out to be on Anne’s side.
In a sense, the townspeople are the external conflict, but Anne’s Gift is also a kind of external Supernatural conflict as it’s her gift that frightens the town (some call her a witch). He gift of ESP that she inherited from her grandmother is both the tool of her sustenance as well as that of suspicion. It’s an interesting conflict.