The Skeleton Key (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/07/2005

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Atmospheric thriller that has its daft moments but redeems itself with a genuinely shocking climax.

If you’ve seen the trailer for The Skeleton Key you could be forgiven for thinking, “Oh no – not another Kate Hudson stinker!” However, while it’s certainly true that Hudson has made some abysmal movies of late, The Skeleton Key is not one of them.

The Plot

Directed by British director Iain Softley (“You may remember me from films such as Backbeat and, um, K-Pax”), The Skeleton Key is an effectively creepy, atmospheric thriller that builds towards a killer of a climax.

The film is set in the dark backwoods just outside of New Orleans and stars Kate Hudson as Caroline, a live-in nurse who is hired to care for an elderly woman’s (Gena Rowlands as Violet) near-catatonic husband (John Hurt as Ben) in their creepy, derelict mansion house in the middle of nowhere.

Caroline’s not exactly what you might call the suspicious type so she accepts happily and doesn’t seem remotely phased by all the creepy things that keep happening. Armed with the titular skeleton key, Caroline goes for a snoop around the house and discovers a hidden attic room that holds a deadly and terrifying secret…

The first half of the film is all creaking floorboards and atmospheric build-up but things get a lot creepier after Caroline discovers hair, blood, bones and spells in the attic and Violet tells her of two black houseworkers who were caught practicing hoodoo (that’s hoodoo, not voodoo) and were subsequently lynched.

She also tells her that Ben had his stroke after entering the attic, but, naturally, Caroline behaves like any other dim-witted horror movie heroine and doesn’t think to get the hell out of there, even after Ben manages to write “Help Me” on his sheets and crawl out of the window in sheer terror.

The Acting

Hudson may seem like a bland choice for a horror heroine but she actually does a pretty good job in the lead role, playing a character whose flaws blind her to the truth until it’s too late. In addition, Gena Rowlands is wonderfully creepy as Violet and Hurt…well, Hurt pulls off semi-paralysed wide-eyed horror with aplomb. There’s also yet another strong supporting performance by Peter Sarsgaard as the local lawyer hired to take care of the estate and Joy Bryant provides sassy light relief as Caroline’s best friend, Jill.

The Twist

There are some undeniably silly scenes (Hurt crawling out the window is the most obvious example) but they are all redeemed by the brilliant sucker-punch of the climax. In fact, the ending is so clever that the full horror of it doesn’t hit you until you’re on your way home, when you suddenly realise how it affects your perception of an earlier event in the film and find shivers running up your spine.

To sum up, The Skeleton Key presents itself as a typical Hollywood horror flick, but Softley’s subtle misdirection ensures that the climax comes as a genuine shock and elevates it into a different experience altogether. Recommended.

Film Trailer

The Skeleton Key (12A)
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Content updated: 15/12/2017 21:23

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