The Skeleton Key (2005)


Perhaps I was expecting nothing, because in the end I was truly surprised that “The Skeleton Key” ended up becoming a truly inspired and genuinely creepy supernatural thriller that deserves a chance. Director Iain Softley along with writer Ehren Kruger of past supernatural exploits, creates a rather spooky and all around morbid thriller surround the Louisiana bayous, and its undercoating of hoodoo and religious fanaticism. Much a mixture of “The Serpent and The Rainbow” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, the main character, a heroine of rather innocent background discovers she’s in a web of conspiracy and potentially evil deeds that will decide her life if she’s not careful.

For our heroine here, a very well intentioned individual, she discovers the evil lies deeper than she can imagine. Caroline is surprisingly not an idiotic character who I felt zero sympathy for, she was a heroine who was well intentioned enough, but not smart enough. Caroline is a hospice worker who has had it with the hospital she works in and decides to take a job at a run down mansion where a secluded couple live. Caroline takes care of the ailing Ben, a man paralyzed by a near fatal stroke. But as the days pass, Caroline slowly begins to uncover secrets within the house and discovers there more to her situation than meets the eye. I’d always heard of voodoo, and black magic, and Santeria, but I’d never heard of hoodoo, a basically lukewarm sense of black magic that worships the Christian fate or so its explained. Kruger along with cinematographer Daniel Mindel manage to appropriately capture the mood they want with a murky and often times grimy atmosphere that is overshadowed by the corridors within the home that are more dependent on darkness than actual bright brilliant camera work.

Kruger gives a great job directing one hell of a supernatural thriller, one that I found very hard to display apathy towards. For someone who has seen every thriller involving voodoo, it’s hard to believe I’d see something so fresh and live as “Skeleton Key” was, and it worked in the end. Hudson makes her first foray in to a movie that doesn’t involve a sitcom plot, or her grinning like an idiot and actually displays her abilities here. My harsh criticism towards her has never been her acting, which was proven in “Almost Famous” but her ability to choose the wrong projects that were more ploys to keep her working, rather than put her talents on display. Hudson gives a great performance amidst the all-star cast and creates a very sympathetic character that the audience can’t help root for in the end. We follow this woman in and out of the story and we’re waiting to discover the mystery as we go along.

The makers of this film bring this character very down to earth with her cynicism, angst and realistic poverty-stricken life style. What I found quite pleasing was that this followed the structures of poor living. Caroline has a run down buggy, and she’s never made up or in glamorous clothing. But Hudson is not the only person here who gives a great performance. If anything, the main reason to watch this is for the cast of heavyweights. Raw talent is on display here. I mean, it’s hard to beat a cast comprised of Hudson, Hurt, Saarsgard, and Rowlands and each contributes their own performances that give this film the boost it needs. My main lure for “Skeleton Key” was ultimately Saarsgard who pulls in a strong supporting performance as a lawyer for the estate does his duty here and tends to occasionally drown out Hudson with his own skill.

Meanwhile, pulling up the end are Gena Rowlands and the always enjoyable John Hurt as the couple who make up the primary drive for the film. Rowlands channels Kathy Bates ala “Misery” with her often menacing and creepy performance, while Hurt pulls in the best performance here. His performance is more reliant on emoting and quiet agony. He has about two lines during the film, but most of his great performance depends on facial expressions and emoting with what little emotions he can convey as a man completely paralyzed. Director Softley has a knack for displaying scenes that are often present with great imagery and searing suspense. In the end, Kruger just has no idea how to handle his own story. It seemed in the end that Kruger’s idea got the better of him, and the plot holes and unanswerable questions arose that nagged at me mercilessly. As posed with the body switching plot drive, what was the ultimate explanation for it?

If the original man inhabited Saarsgard’s characters body, then who inhabited Hurt’s body? And if the original man that was once Saarsgard’s body is in Hurt’s, why was he kept with Violet instead of shipped off as Violet was in the climax? None of it seemed to make sense in the end, and much of it is left immensely unanswered which becomes more aggravating than suspenseful. As with “Skeleton Key” and its sort of concept, it’s much too reliant on the mood of an Asian ghost film and presents many predictable plot elements that not only took me out of the narrative but kept “Skeleton Key” grounded in to a derivative string. Though, Softley directs an entertaining thriller, he’s not above the many jump scares, and placing many arbitrary plot devices. If you’re doing something to someone, why do you keep the evidence just lying around your apartment for anyone to discover? It makes no sense! Despite its massive plot holes “Skeleton Key” is a supernatural film that’s very reliant more on factory devices and less on special effects, with creaks, bumps, and shadows that make this a genuinely creepy offering in a world filled with contrived bland dramas posing as thrillers.