The Skeleton Key

The Skeleton Key

2005, PG-13, 104 min. Directed by Iain Softley. Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Aug. 12, 2005

A top-notch cast was gathered and then wasted in this atmospheric but prosaic hoodoo spooker. Although it's nice to see Hudson break from the string of wan romantic comedies she's starred in since earning her Oscar nomination for Almost Famous, she achieves no career breakthrough here as the plucky heroine Caroline, a hospice worker who takes a live-in job in a haunted old plantation home in the Louisiana bayou. She's hired by the Devereaux family attorney Luke (Sarsgaard, in his first screen role where he makes little impression) to attend to elderly Ben (Hurt), who's been hobbled by a stroke. But she also has to deal with Ben's dotty spouse Violet (Rowlands), who appears to be harboring secrets. The durable Rowlands never quite becomes fully believable as a Southern hoodoo practitioner, and it's actually rather sad to see this veteran perhaps heading down the elderly Bette Davis scream-queen path. And casting the multidimensional Hurt as a semicatatonic begs us to call into question the basic acumen of the filmmakers. As scripted by Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road, Scream 3, the American Ring remakes, and the upcoming John Carter of Mars and The Brothers Grimm), The Skeleton Key presents a mishmash of tired horror clichés that steadily accumulate while forestalling the film's final twist. Like good horror heroines, Caroline of course goes into the attic where she hears strange noises and plunges ahead with her own investigation instead of going to the police when Ben writes "Help me" on his bedsheets and then climbs out on the roof in the rain and falls. And, yes, it's always raining. As for how the invalid Ben gets from his bed to the roof, the answer is hoodoo (narrative pains are taken to differentiate hoodoo, an American folk magic, from voodoo, a religious tradition). Director Softley (Backbeat, Hackers, The Wings of the Dove, and K-PAX) again shows his gifts for creating atmospheric milieus that emphasize the visual over the literal. His Louisiana feels humid and ancient. Yet the movie, overall, lacks tension and suspense, and some of its key emotional moments were found by the audience to be laugh-out-loud risible. To paraphrase the popular song, "Hoodoo?! Who do you think you're fooling?"

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Iain Softley Films
This fantasy adventure, in which characters come to life when the books they're in are read aloud, boasts a strong cast and an ingrained love for reading and the well-told tale.

Marc Savlov, Jan. 23, 2009

Based on the novel by Gene Brewer, K-PAX is the story of Prot (Spacey), a man who claims to have traveled to Earth from another ...

Marc Savlov, Oct. 26, 2001

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
SXSW Film Review: The Greatest Hits
Love means never having to flip to the B side

March 16, 2024

SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
SXSW Film Review: The Uninvited
A Hollywood garden party unearths certain truths

March 12, 2024


The Skeleton Key, Iain Softley, Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, Joy Bryant

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle