Film Reviews

THE SKELETON KEY

By • Aug 12th, 2005 •

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Universal Pictures
Shadowcatcher Entertainment/Double Feature Films
MPAA rating: PG-13 / Running time — 105 minutes

QUOTE: Engrossing, nice atmosphere, and with a clever twist.

New Jersey native Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is living in New Orleans and working at a hospice. She is burning off guilt for not helping her father when he was dying. Caroline accepts a position as a live-in caretaker in a rundown plantation house in the Louisiana bayou.

Caroline goes to the mansion and decides she is not right for the job. Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) deems her unsuited to care for her husband Ben (John Hurt) who recently had a stroke. He cannot talk and is partially paralyzed. But the Devereaux’s estate lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), urges Devereaux to hire Caroline and then tells Caroline Ben needs her.

Caroline, too curious for her own good – she is always walking into strange houses unannounced – moves in.

The house is huge with many rooms. Each room has a door with a lock. Violet gives Caroline the skeleton key that opens every door in the house, except, of course, the one door Caroline finds. The house makes noises and Caroline starts having bad dreams. And where are all the mirrors?

Caroline has a lot of free time and finds the hoodoo room in the attic. She starts to investigate hoodoo and soon realizes that Ben needs to be rescued.

The twist ending was great fun and a big surprise, so THE SKELETON KEY, with its rich New Orleans backdrop and inspired hoodoo plot, is a winner for Hudson. Now, if only Caroline had been played by someone other than Kate Hudson, UNIVERSAL would be looking at THE SIXTH SENSE box office.

Hudson is trying hard here, but lacks the facial expressions that telegraph Caroline’s intelligence. This is the real key, since Caroline uncovers a secret that has been rife in the house for 90 years. Hudson is just not strong enough to carry a movie like this. However, with the right projects and under the right directors’ guidance, Hudson could be led into Nicole Kidman territory. It depends on how many RAISING HELEN movies she wants to keep making. (Come to think of it, Kidman has been making some poor choices – BEWITCHED, THE STEPFORD WIVES – herself.) These inane movies must be easy money for already bloated bank accounts.

Being highly superstitious myself (Just in case, I have candles to Chango Macho and ‘Go Away Evil’ oils I brought in New York’s Spanish Harlem), I enjoyed the hoodoo trappings, charms, and rituals that the screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, invested in the screenplay. (I immediately placed shavings from red bricks outside my front door. People who want to do us harm will not be able to cross the red line!)

The director, Brit Iain Softley, and director of photography, Dan Mindel, give New Orleans a worn-out, steeped in it’s slave culture, atmosphere which is fascinating to those of us living in sanitized, model environments. With no truly authentic magical shops here in Las Vegas, I have to stock up on potions and charms at the Iquitos medicine market every time I go to the Peruvian Amazon.


Cast:
Caroline: Kate Hudson
Violet: Gena Rowlands
Luke: Peter Sarsgaard
Jill: Joy Bryant
Ben: John Hurt

Credits:
Director: Iain Softley
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
Producers: Daniel Bobker, Iain Softley, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher
Executive producer: Clayton Townsend
Director of photography: Dan Mindel
Production designer: John Beard
Editor: Joe Hutshing
Costume designer: Louise Frogley
Music: Edward Shearmur

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