The Skeleton Key


Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis
Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux
John Hurt as Ben Devereaux
Peter Sarsgaard as Luke
Joy Bryant as Jill
Maxine Barnett as Mama Cynthia
Fahnlohnee R. Harris as Hallie
Marion Zinser as Bayou Woman
Deneen Tyler as Desk Nurse
Ann Dalrymple as C.N.A.
Trula M. Marcus as Nurse Trula
Tonya Staten as Nurse Audrey
Thomas Uskali as Robertson Thorpe
Jen Apgar as Madeleine Thorpe
Forrest Landis as Martin Thorpe
Jamie Lee Redmon as Grace Thorpe
Ronald McCall as Papa Justify

Despite a lack of good scares, a twist ending in The Skeleton Key makes it a little more interesting than your standard supernatural thriller.

Caroline Ellis is a hospice nurse living in New Orleans. Looking for new work, she answers a newspaper ad requesting a live-in nurse. When she arrives at the old plantation just outside of the city, she finds Violet and Ben Devereaux and their attorney Luke. Ben has suffered a stroke and is paralyzed while Violet takes care of him. Despite Violet’s eccentricities, Caroline agrees to take on the job for the sake of the elderly Ben.

As Caroline begins to explore the house using a skeleton key that opens all of the doors, she starts to learn of the dark history of the plantation home. She also learns that Violet believes ghosts in the house attacked her husband in the attic, thus explaining his condition. But are there really ghosts in the old home or is there another explanation for what is going on?

The Skeleton Key is rated R for violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity and thematic material.

What Worked:
I typically don’t like horror movies or supernatural thrillers, but I still found The Skeleton Key to be fairly entertaining. It had an interesting story, a creepy location, and a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. That twist is what really makes the film. It’s the kind that makes you go back and review the rest of the movie looking for the clues that you missed. In fact, the twist makes the movie seem more like an episode of the Twilight Zone than a horror movie or thriller. I can’t get into details about it here, but without that twist The Skeleton Key wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining.

The acting in the movie isn’t particularly outstanding. Kate Hudson is very restrained in her role as Caroline. About the only noteworthy performance is that of Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux. Creepy old ladies in horror movies are nothing new, but she is up there with the best of them. From her intense stares to her occasionally insane ramblings, Rowlands provides most of the scares for the film.

The Skeleton Key is also a good looking film. Director Iain Softley makes the most of his New Orleans locations. The voodoo subculture in the city is a perfect backdrop for the movie and makes it about the only location in the US that you could buy this story taking place in.

What Didn’t Work:
One of the main problems with this movie is that it isn’t all that scary. Despite many moments where suspense is built up or things jump out, I was never startled once. Plenty of people in the audience shrieked here and there, but I was never once spooked. Maybe I’m too jaded to enjoy it. I also think that lack of good scares means the movie relies too much on the twist at the end in order to succeed or fail. Your final opinion of the film may entirely depend on what you think of that twist in the last 5 minutes.

There’s a lot of voodoo (or Hoodoo, to be more specific) in this movie and it will either freak you out or make you laugh because it’s silly. A scene towards the end involving the villain and brick dust ends up being rather comical when it should, in fact, scare people to death. Again, I can’t get into details without spoiling the film.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re into supernatural thrillers or if you’re a big fan of Kate Hudson, then you’ll want to check out The Skeleton Key. However your enjoyment of the film will entirely depend on how you receive the twist at the end.