The Skeleton Key (2005)

DVD Cover (Universal)
Gothic Film, Supernatural Thriller, Thriller
Iain Softley Iain Softley
Kate Hudson Kate Hudson
Gena Rowlands Gena Rowlands
John Hurt John Hurt
Peter Sarsgaard Peter Sarsgaard
Joy Bryant Joy Bryant

6.3 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: August 17, 2005
When sitting down to watch a horror film like "The Skeleton Key", one has to abandon certain ideas of logic and common sense that accompany reality, but not necessarily cinematic reality. We have to endure people doing things they would not normally do, like investigating strange noises and deducing things without being given enough information to officially do so. We accept these minor abnormalities because we are usually so engrossed in story and plot that we do not initially think of how ridiculous these situations might be. "The Skeleton Key" fails in that we never get to engrossed with the plot that we are able to overlook instances like Kate Hudson persisting on opening a locked attic door which most people would stay away from. Never mind the fact that the door moves by itself. "The Skeleton Key" is a horror film for intelligent people who enjoy figuring plot points out by themselves. The film boasts an amazing cast, but very little fright value.

Kate Hudson stars as Caroline Ellis, a hospice nurse who sits with elderly sufferers through their final minutes on this Earth. When she reads a newspaper ad offering $1,000 per week for the care of an elderly man who lives in deep Louisiana swamp land, she jumps at the opportunity. Peter Sarsgaard stars as Luke Marshall, the old man's estate planner who actually does the hiring himself. John Hurt is the elderly man, Ben Devereaux, who had a stroke while in the attic. Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) is his loving wife who still sticks to the old ways of Louisiana living and does not really approve of Caroline and her methods. Eventually, Caroline learns the history of the creepy old house where she is working, which deals with servants who practiced voodoo and hoodoo and were hanged and burned right outside the home. She also starts to feel that Violet is posing a real danger to Ben, even going so far as to believe that she has placed some kind of voodoo hex on him. The rest of the film goes down the same path as most horror films, though this one has a couple of surprises up its sleeves.

This film was all about atmosphere. We do not get those sudden jolts of horror of the kind of in your face shock value as seen in the Japanese horror films. Instead, the location is suppose to scare us; and, much of the Louisiana bayou is rather unsettling. The house (the same used in "Forrest Gump") becomes a character by itself, with each door leading the way into something new and more terrifying. We just accept that old houses are creepy and that most are going to be haunted. The surprise comes in finding the actual back-story of the home, and that is what "The Skeleton Key" takes so long to reveal. The playing of the record, "Conjur and Sacrifice" adds a nice element of horror to the film in that the recording sounds far more frightening that most horror films these days turn out to be. There is also a nice sequence involving Caroline paddling her way down a murky swamp -- the cinematography alone makes that scene worth watching. Basically, "The Skeleton Key" relies solely on Louisiana and the idea of voodoo to scare the audience, and it just doesn't always work the way that want it.

Unlike the dismal "Dark Water" from last month, "The Skeleton Key" makes great use of its A-list cast. That cast is what gives this film just enough to make this a positive review of the film. Kate Hudson is perfectly convincing as the young hospice worker who starts unraveling the mystery of the house -- I was ready to see her branch out from those same ridiculous romantic comedies and such. John Hurt, though he mutters virtually nothing in the film, commands his screen time with some of the most haunting eyes and facial expressions imaginable. When Caroline says it looks like Ben wants to tell her something, we see exactly what she is talking about. The highlight of the film, however, is Gena Rowlands, having all of the fun in the world in a role we seldom see her attempt. She is luminous and amazing as Violet, one of the most challenging roles she has been given in a long time. At such an advanced age, she is still at the very top of her acting game. I would question Peter Sarsgaard's motives for being in this film, considering his current high stock and reputation.

"The Skeleton Key" succeeds because of fine performances, unsettling scenery, and interesting plot points. The whole idea of laying the line of brick dust to keep your enemies at bay is marvelous and adds lots of tension to the plot. It was the little things that made this film watchable, even though it is not one of the better horror films of the year. "The Skeleton Key" was one of those films that you enjoy watching, but really have no desire to see again. It is not going to do down as a horror classic and it probably won't even make you jump that much, if at all. It does not really try to make you jump. What it tries to do is tap into that part of you that understands the house is haunted, understands how supernatural and creepy the bayou can be, understands how the brick dust will work, even though logic and common sense tell you otherwise. If you sit down and try to analyze the film, you will pick it apart until there is nothing left but Gena Rowlands' amazing performance. If you sit down and actually try to enjoy the film for what it is, I am sure you will walk out with a smile on your face.

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Deadwired2 #1: Deadwired2 - added 12/20/2005, 03:04 PM
Actually, I enjoyed this a good bit more than most modern horror/suspense movies like Saw, the Ring and the Grudge. This movie had a much more original setting; not too many movies that paint the bayous as a particularly evil place. However, like most horror/suspense movies, I wasn't horrified or stuck in suspense. At all. The ending I felt was kind of lame, as well.
Chad #2: Chad - added 02/13/2006, 08:04 AM
I enjoyed this movie a good deal. As the review above describes, this movie is not about cheap scares and buckets of gore; instead, the scares are built through the plot and the expectation that something could happen at any moment. Also, I thought that the ending revelations were handled very nicely, contrary to what the comment below this one says. I agree with this review for the most part, but in my eyes, the film was a tad bit better than that last paragraph mentions. 8/10.
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