Skeleton Key, The
Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt
Directed By:
Iain Softley

The Skeleton Key plays at being a ghost story, when in fact it hides a more insidious tale. Kate Hudson is a nurse who leaves the hospital system that she finds heartless in hopes of something more "human". She locates a job working for an older couple off in the back country. The patient under her care is John Hurt, an older gentleman who recently had a stroke in the attic. His wife (Rowlands) is, of course, a bit of an eccentric whose actions lead Kate to believe that things aren't as they seem.

It doesn't take long (well, actually it feels like it takes too long) for the viewers to be drawn from a world where we're led to believe the story's "evil" is a haunting to the actually darkness: a variant of voodoo known as hoodoo. The region is steeped in the lore and as the tale progresses, the main character goes from feeling that it's all a sham to believing in the power it holds. But, that, in of itself, is the main force behind the story. Kate's progress towards believing in the magic makes things all the worse at the story builds.

The cast performs excellently. While Kate Hudson is fine as the main star, John Hurt works wonderfully with so few lines. Hell, most of his performance is based around having very little movement and control all his own. A lot of the secondary cast aids in fleshing out the main characters and the backstory and world that the film exists in.

While there is a good bit going for The Skeleton Key, for the most part, it tends to take too long to get to any resolution. The pacing is pretty tedious and while the filming is deliberate, it leads to a film that seems to take forever to get to the end. And by that time, any charm or horror there might be is just left to wither away.

Having said that, The Skeleton Key has two things going for it. First and foremost is the ambiance that really makes the house feel a weathered, old southern home, strong in history. The set oozes ambiance and really fits the setting all too well. The other fine point that works for this movie is the fact that the major twist at the end of the story is by-and-large lifted from H.P. Lovecraft's The Thing At The Doorstep. While the movie doesn't actually take the twist "word-for-word", it does have a lot of the same feeling.

If you like films like Burnt Offering that take a while to build to their finale, then The Skeleton Key might be for you. For those who want their thrillers to be more active, then skip this one. Yes, I called it a "thriller". Don't let the Hollywood hype fool you - this is no horror film. It's a pure thriller at heart. Though, it is one that takes just a little too long.

- - Kinderfeld

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