The Skeleton Key
February 13, 2006
Those residents of New Orleans are really having a tough time. As if the recent hurricane disaster wasn’t bad enough, Hollywood has always dismissed the American south as a breeding ground for racism or fanatical voodoo witch-doctors. The Skeleton Key brazenly embraces both these clichés with nurse Kate Hudson moving into a large plantation house (gasp!) to care for stroke victim John Hurt and his creepy wife Gena Rowlands. Of course, there’s a dusty old attic where a dark secret lurks and our Kate just has to nose around…
Writer Ehren Kruger takes a slightly more restrained stab at horror (it’s really more of a psychological chiller) after work on bigger (and better) movies like The Ring and Scream 3, and director Iain Softley is always one to go for something a little more intellectual than his peers, but The Skeleton Key ends up being nothing more than a clever ending with two hours of uneventful build-up. Doors bang in the night and the main character lunges upright in her bed from a nightmare. John Hurt gurgles on a bed and Rowlands, although quite effective in her way, acts suspiciously enough to warrant more than just a little attic investigation.
As Caroline (Hudson) begins to suspect Violet is poisoning her husband to keep him bedridden, she must find out more about the history of voodoo practised in the house. This leads her to a rather bizarre protection weapon that is so ridiculous as to be funny. When the big bad is finally revealed, Caroline keeps them out of her room by merely laying down a line of brick dust that will prevent evil from crossing the threshold. (Brick dust being our personal protection of choice in just such an emergency). The idea here is that if you believe something has power over you then it does.
So far, so what, but then there’s that great ending that almost makes you believe you’ve watched a decent film. Of course we can’t give it away but it could have earned its way among the Don’t Look Nows and The Usual Suspects of this world if the first hour and forty minutes had actually been any good. On second viewing you may appreciate the set-up a lot more and Hudson is always watchable, and Sarsgaard is practically indie royalty after Garden State, but all concerned are wasted on a clichéd setting where the South means blind old hags in porch rocking chairs and locals giving out homemade voodoo spells. It’s nicely shot and Rowlands is excellent, but it’s ultimately not as memorable or scary as it would like to be.
Kicking things off is a twenty-minute reel of deleted scenes with commentary by director Iain Softley. These are mostly longer character beats that were cut for time and there’s nothing essential. There’s an impressive list of other features but these turn out to be merely five minutes each. Still, they are short and to the point.
-The Making of The Skeleton Key
-Recipe and Ritual: Making the Perfect Gumbo
-Blues in the Bayou
-Kate Hudson’s Ghost Story (a highlight)
-Casting the Film
-John Hurt’s Story
-A House Called Felicity
-Gena’s Love Spell
Finally there’s a decent director’s commentary in which Brit Iain Softley preaches the importance of shooting on location and how underrated Kate Hudson is as a serious actress. The Skeleton Key is average Saturday night hokum with delusions of grandeur, but the ending’s a corker.