Kate Hudson - Caroline Ellis
Gena Rowlands - Violet Devereaux
John Hurt - Ben Devereaux
Peter Sarsgaard - Luke Marshall
Joy Bryant - Jill Dupez
Maxine Barnett - Mama Cynthia
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Supernatural/Witchcraft
Running Time - 103 Minutes
Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) works at a hospice, quickly becoming sick of her job as she watches the elderly die without family or friends to care for them. Looking for another job, she accepts a caregiver position in New Orleans. The patient is Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), who is stuck in a wheelchair, mute, and supposedly doesn't have that much more time to live. Ben's wife, the very opinionated Violet (Gena Rowlands), doesn't really appreciate Caroline's presence since she isn't a true Southerner. But since all the caretakers have left the job and Ben is getting worse by the day, Violet has no choice but to appreciate Caroline's help.
Since Caroline is living inside the Devereaux mansion, Violet gives Caroline a skeleton key that will open every door inside the house. When upstairs in the attic, Caroline finds a door that the key won't open. Violet claims this door hasn't been opened in over the forty years she has lived there. Becoming curious, Caroline decides to find out what's behind the door. Her nosiness starts to effect her, as she starts seeing visions and hearing things from the former residents that had passed away. Even the people around her start acting stranger than usual. Caroline realizes the answers lie behind the mysterious door, but the truth may be worse than she ever imagined.
- The acting. What really keeps THE SKELETON KEY afloat is the solid acting by everyone involved. Kate Hudson is usually hit-and-miss for me, but she's really good as Caroline. The character would probably look pretty one-note and uninteresting on paper, but Hudson gives her life and personality - as well as depth that text couldn't provide. She plays Caroline as an intelligent, tough, and savvy woman, and it works for the character. I've always been a fan of Gena Rowlands and her performance as Violet is no exception. It's obvious from the start that you can't trust her, and Rowlands plays it up. In a lot of ways, she adds a touch of class to THE SKELETON KEY - giving a powerful, and sometimes creepy, performance in where she steals every scene she's in. John Hurt sold me as the poor stroke victim. He barely speaks, but his eyes tell you everything you need to do. Some have called his performance a waste of his acting abilities, but I thought he did a great job. Peter Sarsgaard displays his charisma as usual as lawyer Luke. My only issue was probably his on-and-off New Orleans accent. But other than that, I dug him. And Joy Bryant played the best friend role well. Just a nice cast that made the film probably better than it had any right to be.
- The direction. Iain Softley, who also directed HACKERS, does a pretty nice job in terms of the visuals. I thought the framing and composition was handled well. The quick editing at times worked instead of hurt the film. The flashbacks were shot in black-and-white, which I dug. There was also some nice moments of tension and suspense. And I liked the pacing as well. It was a nicely handled film that had some nice atmosphere. Can't complain really.
- Engaging story. The screenplay is not perfect by any means, but you're definitely invested by the narrative. Ehren Kruger, who's written screenplays for SCREAM 3, THE RING, THE RING TWO, and others, is also hit-and-miss with me as well. And while not everything on the script is great or works to the best of its ability, he gives THE SKELETON KEY a nice pace and interesting moments that keep you watching. Instead of trying to scare viewers right away with pointless "jump scares" and "scary visuals", Kruger lets the story play out naturally. In fact, strange things don't really happen until 30 to 45 minutes into the film. Kruger allows the viewer to acquaint themselves with the situation, the locations, and the characters before getting into what the purpose of the film actually is. It may turn off those with short attention spans, but I appreciated the confidence Kruger had in the storytelling.
The hoodoo stuff may have come off a bit cliche, as other films like ANGEL HEART, I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE, and SERPENT AND THE RAINBOW handled the idea of hoodoo/voodoo much better. But in terms of the story, the cliches worked and didn't bother me. Anyway, the hoodoo stuff led to the twist ending - which I liked a lot. It's not a bad screenplay. Could it have been more original? Stronger? Scarier? Sure. But for what it is, it's more than capable to entertain the viewer.
- Too predictable. The main issue with THE SKELETON KEY is that, if you've seen enough of these type of films, you know exactly how it'll play out. It's easy to spot who will be the good guys and who will be the villains. You'll see the twist ending coming a mile away. As a matter of fact, I wish they had just done the twist without the extra stuff that took place afterwards. It became a bit too much and didn't add anything new that the viewer couldn't realize on their own. As a matter of fact, a lot of stuff here has been done before, and probably better, in previous films. Being predictable isn't terrible since it's hard to be original these days anyway. But while it's easy to feel comfortable in watching something we know the narrative structure of, it takes away from how effective the twists and turns are. THE SKELETON KEY could have used a bit more "oomph", and being predictable hinders that.
- Not enough genuine scares. For a horror-thriller, it didn't really creep me out or scare me much at all. Most horror films these days don't have that effect on me much anymore, but I do jump every now and then. It's funny because I felt the mood and atmosphere quite a bit, but I wish it was thicker and had really pushed the mystery and terror a bit more. You can do a lot with hoodoo and black magic in general to create a semi-scary flick. I think THE SKELETON KEY had potential to be something really memorable, but just ends up being your standard PG-13 horror film. That's not a bad thing really, but you can tell there could have been more done with the premise in terms of fear.
THE FINAL HOWL
THE SKELETON KEY is a watchable PG-13 horror-thriller that does more things well than it has flaws. While the film is way too predictable, cliched, and not scary enough considering the premise, at least it has solid acting, some nice direction, and a decent narrative that will never bore you. It's a decent time-waster that you'll probably enjoy, but won't remember much of once it's over. A solid rental, but only a buy if you really like this for your personal collection.
3 Howls Outta 4