The Skeleton Key
- Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis
- Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux
- Peter Sarsgaard as Luke Marshall
- John Hurt as Ben Devereaux
A creepy supernatural horror/thriller with Gothic ambience and strange imagery, The Skeleton Key in my book is an underrated entry in the supernatural horror genre. Trust me you won’t be sleeping soundly after viewing this film.
Caroline Ellis is a caregiver in New Orleans. She has become disillusioned with working at a nursing home after seeing the way that when a patient dies the place can’t wait to dispense with them. Caroline has always felt a certain amount of guilt for not being there for her father when he passed away and through her work she sees it as an opportunity to make up for this. After quitting her job at the home, she finds an advert in a newspaper for a care worker at an old former plantation house deep in the heart of Southern Louisiana. In need of work, Caroline applies for the job. She is to care for Ben Devereaux, an old man who had a stroke the year before and has paralysed most of his body. Ben’s wife Violet doesn’t take to kindly to Caroline at first, but grows to tolerate her. The creaking house is a strange and mysterious place that soon becomes interesting to the curious Caroline. She is given a skeleton key by Violet and as one would, she begins to explore the house. She finds her way into the dusty attic that is anything but ordinary. She discovers various paraphernalia belonging to Hoodoo, a form of conjuring. It seems the house once belonged to a rich man who had two servants who were practitioners of hoodoo and were lynched when it was discovered they were attempting to teach the rich man’s children to conjure. Caroline learns the story from the steely Violet, but remains skeptical surrounding it. The thing with Hoodoo is that it is harmless only if you don’t believe it. But Caroline’s discovery is far from good as various strange events begin to occur around her and her faith in logic is tested by awaiting horror.
From the opening shots, The Skeleton Key has marvellous visuals that radiate the smoky, Southern Gothic atmosphere of the house and the surroundings. The sense of mysticism abounds through various symbols such as old, scratchy records and folk stories that are weaved into the narrative thread. You can almost feel the humidity of the place. The various flashback scenes of the house’s history are visually stunning, using a cross cutting technique between black and white and colour. Iain Softley directs with a sure touch that helps slowly engulf us in the creepy story that awaits us and Caroline. He manages to build some great suspense and sense of dread with the narrative. Sure some moments may have hints of schlock and the occasional lull, but The Skeleton Key is still riveting and effective viewing.
What gives The Skeleton Key the edge as a supernatural horror/thriller is the talented cast. Kate Hudson sheds the rom com girl image to play the part of the caring and curious Caroline. Hudson creates a sympathetic and believable character who is far from the screaming heroines of some horrors. She is an intelligent woman caught up in the creepy mystery surrounding the house and attempting to escape the horror that slowly moves in. I hope Hudson chooses more roles like this in the future, as she is talented in more serious fare than people give her credit for. Gena Rowlands is ideally cast as the imperious Violet, who at first just appears to be a stubborn old woman stuck in her ways. She emerges as something much more scary and enigmatic than this. Peter Sarsgaard provides able support as Luke, the lawyer for Ben and Violet. John Hurt does some great acting in the underwritten role of Ben. Hurt rises above the scripts limitations and manages to convey fear, shock and uncertainty all through his eyes.
It may be far from original, but The Skeleton Key is an engrossing and spooky horror elevated to a higher level by the cast and with a sly and shocking ending that will leave you sleepless.