Thursday Night Movie Club
The Skeleton Key
star rating graphicstar rating graphic½
Release Date: August 12, 2005

Director: Iain Softley
Kate Hudson
Gena Rowlands
John Hurt
Peter Sarsgaard
Joy Bryant
Maxine Barnett
Fahnlohnee R. Harris
Marion Zinser
Deneen Tyler
Ann Dalrymple
Trula M. Marcus
Tonya Staten
Thomas Uskali
Jen Apgar
Forrest Landis
Caroline Ellis
Violet Devereaux
Ben Devereaux
Mama Cynthia
Bayou Woman
Desk Nurse
Nurse Trula
Nurse Audrey
Robertson Thorpe
Madeleine Thorpe
Martin Thorpe
The Skeleton Key poster
Photo of Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis in The Skeleton KeyThe Skeleton Key is a suprisingly unsuspsenseful movie. It might be because I've seen too many M. Night Shyamalan movie. I spent most of this movie trying to figure out the "surprise" ending. Except for the absolute final resolution, this movie proceeds rather straight forward. In fact, it moves so methodically that I was wondering if there was any truth to hoodoo, a mystical form of voodoo, or if the whole situation was some con.

Kate Hudson stars as Caroline Ellis, a primary-care worker at a hospice in New Orleans. Her most recent patient has just died. When no one comes to claim his personal effects, she is disheartened. She is still bothered by her relationship with her late father. He died from a long illness while Caroline was elsewhere occupied. She never even knew her father was ill until he died.

Caroline is looking for a new challenge. She finds it rather quickly in the form of a newspaper advertisment looking for in-house hospice care at $1000 a month. This is too good to pass up. It will help her pay for medical school.

Upon arrival at the musty, old mansion (what else), Caroline first meets Luke, the families attorney. He is a charmingly sly person. Luke tells Caroline a little about her patient, Ben, and his wife, Violet. Violet is supicious of anyone who comes into her household. She is very protective of what is hers and she does not like strangers. The previous five care-givers have all left after a few days on the job. Caroline sees this as a challenge and takes the job.

Photo of Peter Sarsgaard and Kate HudonViolet promptly gives Caroline one of the two "skeleton keys" that open every door in the mansion. Bells should start ringing in anyone's head at this seemingly kind gesture. "Why are all of the doors in the mansion locked when there are only two people and an invalid living in the house?" By the condition of the place, it is obvious there is no money here so there is no need to fear robbers.

Although Ben is supposedly paralyzed from his stroke, Caroline discovers that he can communicate, through eye movements. Caroline becomes suspicious of Ben's stroke, wondering what caused it. After learning that Ben had his stroke in the attic, Carline becomes a psuedo Sherlock Holmes and begins an investigation into the attic.

Caroline begins to suspect that hoodoo is somehow involved. She slowly discovers signs that back up her theory, red brick dust laid down at doorways to keep your enemies out. Caroline is unafraid of her discovery as this mystical form of voodoo only works if you truly believe in it. Wanna guess what happens next? It is pretty obvious as Caroline learns more about hoodoo.

I think The Skeleton Key tries to emulate a Stephen King novel, it starts slowly and builds to a shattering climax. Unfortunately, the suspense never grows as I found myself not believing in hoodoo. I was continually waiting for the shocking revelation of some master con at work here. Even during the final chase through the mansion as Carline wards off her enemies using hoodoo, I wasn't convinced that these mystical powers had any effect. Caroline's enemies might simply be faking it for some ulterior motive.

Photo of Gena Rowlands and Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.The Skeleton Key has its suspenseful moments, but they are too few and too far between. Kate Hudson has a great body but doesn't really capture the full terror and hysteria of the growing, menacing situation she finds herself in. All of Caroline's efforts to take Ben to a place of safety fail but we are never sure if this is by physical or mystical means. Gena Rowlands is good as Violet, kind, friendly yet still suspicious of strangers. Violet subtley gives Caroline just enough information to wet her appetite. Peter Sarsgaard is also quite good. Despite all his charm, I was still supicious of him. He seemed just a bit too charming, expecially for an impartial attorney. As Ben, John Hurt is the best actor here. Hurt is all but unrecognizable but he is the only one who projects the agonizing fear laying just below the surface.

The Skeleton Key is an OK movie but, as directed by Iain Softley, the suspense and terror are never sustained. By the time the movie reaches its surprise ending, the suspense was gone and the conclusion was not as much of a surprise at it merely seems to make sense.