The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key


Reviewed by: Richard Mellor

As the real Louisiana is plagued by hurricanes, floods and looters, the cinematic version appears little safer. In this most recent portrayal, along with the Deep South thriller standards of spooky plantation houses, eerily quiet gas stations and homicidal hicks, hoodoo is added as an extra hazard, upsetting the poor victims of The Skeleton Key with its mischievous magic. Iain Softley's horror thriller benefits from this fresh source of peril, becoming one of the more intelligent and involving schlockers to emerge from that American underbelly in recent years.

His film is also helped by a satisfyingly vicious twist in the final scenes. Hitherto the plot has been unremarkable; quitting her job at a heartless New Orleans hospital, compassionate nurse Caroline (Kate Hudson) begins to take care of a stroke victim (John Hurt), with the dubious assistance of his wife (Gena Rowlands), in the couple's big ol' scary house, deep in swampland. But oh lord, Caroline quickly links a locked attic room with resident ghosts Papa Justify and Mama Cecile, and is quickly earmarked as a tasty sacrifice in one of the more antisocial hoodoo spells.

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Hudson lends the film much-needed plausibility, despite nagging doubts that she is a smidgen too old to be playing such roles. One of the less annoying flailing blonde thriller victims, Caroline has welcome amounts of common sense, pluck and - heavens! - even some charisma. Opposite her, Rowlands exults in the chance to ham it up and create a genuinely menacing character. Hurt offers scarcely a word and still communicates his vulnerability and fear with stylish ease. These fine performances paper over the wooden acting by Peter Sarsgaard, as a slimeball family lawyer.

Building the tension levels with near mathematical precision, Softley directs capably, if without flair. He uses the obligatory cameos from bizarre animal skulls, odd floating things in murky-coloured jars and elusive figures vanishing through doorways. Obediently sticking to his horror manual, he offers ample spine chilling shocks and sudden anticlimaxes to maintain interest throughout. His use of hoodoo - explained as a group of magic tricks, separate from voodoo - lends a welcome fresh interest to this tired genre. Add an inspired ending, which makes perfect sense as long as you don't think about it, and The Skeleton Key makes a pretty good addition to the horror canon. It's formulaic froth, of course, but one of the better examples.

Reviewed on: 23 Nov 2005
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Spooky goings on in an old house with old people (and Kate Hudson) in Louisiana.
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Read more The Skeleton Key reviews:

Amber Wilkinson **
Scott Macdonald *1/2

Director: Iain Softley

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Starring: Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant, Maxine Barnett, Fahnlohnee R. Harris, Marion Zinser, Deneen Tyler, Ann Dalrymple, Trula M. Marcus

Year: 2005

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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