The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key


Reviewed by: Scott Macdonald

The Skeleton Key is a deeply lacklustre bag of bones, boasting plenty of the standard horror/suspense cliches. The Deep South, a swamp and dustbowl setting marks the tone of the story, in which spirits, witches and sorcery do their bump in the night schtick.

After losing a patient and dealing with his - and many others like him - personal effects, Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) has had enough of working for a hospice that treats its patients like a business, preserving existence (I don't want to use the word "caring") for those who are unloved. She quickly finds a job in a creepy old house, looking after a stroke victim (John Hurt), who may be mistreated by his wife (Gena Rowlands). After exploring the house, she finds hoodoo - definitely "Not Voodoo!" - artefacts, including shrunken heads, formaldehyde-imbued organs, spell books and enchantments. A flashback fills in the facts - the house has a history of violence.

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English director Iain Softley does what he can with the material, which often resorts to simplified Hitchcock techniques, cut with falsely speeded-up sequences. As for the aforementioned material, Ehren Kruger has written a screenplay so staggeringly awful and cannibalistic you'd imagine that Donald Kaufman inspirationally wrote it to get a three-picture deal. There is not a single line you'd want to remember, other than for ridicule, and he resorts to exposition every time there's even a potential for confusion for the targeted demographic.

The saving grace - the only thing stopping me from walking out in sheer contempt - is the performances. Hudson, watchable as always, drives home her character's plight with a strong committed delivery, even though any sensible person would have taken the fastest route out towards civilisation. She's still every bit as charismatic as was in Almost Famous.

Rowlands is entertainingly one-sided, in spite of cheerfully chewing the wallpaper when squaring off with Hudson. She manages to deliver a pricelessly awful line during the climax with an utterly straight face. That's true professionalism.

Hurt is wasted. Aside from being naked in the same room as the delectable Kate, he should have no business in such claptrap. Peter Sarsgaard, delightful in Garden State and Kinsey, is inert as the family attorney, who reads elementary law books in his spare time.

Apart from the final few minutes, where a plot zinger makes the flashback so much nastier, there's nothing to recommend. If you want high quality scares, see The Descent. If you prefer witchcraft in the Deep South, see Angel Heart. The Skeleton Key opens the door to a sadly empty place.

Reviewed on: 31 Jul 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:

Richard Mellor ***
Amber Wilkinson **

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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