The Skeleton Key Reviews
The movie doing the Louisiana-based pigeonholing this time around is 2005's "The Skeleton Key", a shadow infused but ultimately safe horror movie that greatly depends on the star quality of Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, and John Hurt (the latter two hamming it up with the former emulating Deborah Kerr or Claire Bloom). It's passably entertaining, but there's something very been-there-done-that about it, either because of Hudson's character's unwillingness to hear out the handful of helpful hints to get out of the stereotyped Southern backwoods or because the "big reveal" is less shocking and more wince-inducing.
Hudson convinces as Caroline Ellis, a young caretaker hired to serve the dying Ben Deveraux (Hurt). The victim of a crippling stroke, Ben cannot move or speak, but something in the air suggests that something other than mere bad health was responsible. The Deveraux household, it seems, has a long history, a history involving death, Hoodoo (not Voodoo), and other supernatural occurrences. Most, in their good senses, would get as far away from possible from the creepy, crumbling mansion. Not Violet. Despite the fact that the matriarch of the home, Violet (Rowlands), is a suspicious figure, despite the fact that Caroline's skeleton key opens everything in the house besides a shady room in the attic, despite the fact that locals warn her that the Deveraux estate is not one to be trusted, she goes out of her way to not only commit to job, but also to solve the mystery that surrounds her new job. Tsk tsk.
The biggest problem in "The Skeleton Key" lies in the fact that most people with common sense would leave its ghastly backwood setting in a hasty sprint - Caroline, on the other hand, decides it would be best to put her life on the line for the sake of curiosity. But curiosity kills cats, and "The Skeleton Key" works on a premise we never quite believe. There's no way someone in Caroline's position would stay as long as she does. I wouldn't. As the film spirals into a disturbing ending that puts its lead heroine in grave danger, we aren't thrilled, rather smirking that this wouldn't have happened if she would have just let her intuition shut up for a second.
But "The Skeleton Key" is made with a great deal of competence, and that, that, I can admire. It's B-movie material, but because Softley pretends it's better than it is, scares do make their way onto the scene and are delivered effectively. The mansion is a perfect balance of gothic chilliness and candlelit spooks, seemingly gorgeous by day; the way Hurt's silent performance is completely made of unfiltered dread only awakens our own. And Rowlands, chewing the scenery like a "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" era Bette Davis, is a deliciously theatrical villain. I just wish "The Skeleton Key" was more original; while well-made, it's nothing we haven't seen before.