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Universal Studios

Official Site

Director: Iain Softley

Producers: Daniel Bobker, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Iain Softley

Written by: Ehren Kruger

Cast: Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant


Do you believe in magic? Chances are you believe in something paranormal (UFOs, Mohammed, rabbit’s feet, transubstantiation). So what makes the concept of magic so appalling? Maybe you just need to get your ass down to a swamp to think magic might be real. Lots of weird shit happens in and around New Orleans, and not because of the Napoleonic Code, horrible highways, or inbreeding…

Caroline (Hudson) cannot stomach any more of the hospital. She has a genuine desire to care for people, something that simply does not jive with the standard operations of a hospital. So she finds an ad in the classifieds that might fill the compassionate void in her life. She will provide hospice care for the crippled Ben (Hurt), and while doing so must live with his incredibly Southern wife, Violet (Rowlands). Violet tried her best to keep Caroline away, but with some kind help from Violet’s estate lawyer (Sarsgaard) she finally lets up and hires Caroline. Violet finds Caroline disgustingly modern, and scrawnier but prettier than she hoped for. Things seem simple enough for Caroline, but the house has its own share of mystery wrapped around Ben’s silent misery. His stroke crippled his capacities for speech and paralyzed him from the waist down, but he clearly does not want to be in that house. After a relaxing shower, she begins to investigate the mysteries deeply lodged in the history of the house and the legends of folk magic. And, making the biggest mistake of all, she keeps an open mind. She would’ve been a lot better off if she just listened to her black friend Jill (Bryant).

Allow me to say that I’m a fan of the supernatural thriller. I like it for the investigative aspects that challenge presuppositions of what reality is and what it is not. It’s as much a psychological as it is a metaphysical tale, pleasing my tastes on multiple levels. The Skeleton Key recognizes the nature of the genre and does not shy away from it at all, embracing the question of the unknown and our relationship to it. Hellz yeah. Extra points!

This genre generally rests on the suspenseful lighting, dramatic shocks, spooky sounds, and of course, the surprise endings. The Skeleton Key does a great job on all of these. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to set up a frightful environment with a wide array of cobwebs, camera effects, and locked doors. But it can be screwed up rather easily, turning a supernatural suspense thriller into an accidental comedy (thusly earning stars of shame instead of honor). Then there’s the surprise ending. Again, no failure here. Writing this without any spoilers might possibly be the greatest challenge I have ever and will ever face, so in the spirit of my generation, I won’t even try. Does that mean I’ll give a spoiler here? No. It means I won’t try.

So, if you dig on films like this, add an extra star (and try to take someone who also digs on it). I guess if you are somehow repulsed by these movies you should subtract a star. You should also look deep inside yourself and ask why. I’d rate this flick above The Others, which I enjoyed quite thoroughly. But it’s still very much a textbook suspense thriller. I don’t know exactly how anyone would get creative and break free of the basics that characterize this genre, but I don’t give textbook movies five stars. Sorry Iain, Kate, and whomever else. A movie definitely worth watching and paying for, but not an A+.

—Duncan Wright

hybridCinema Ratings Guide:

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