THE SKELETON KEY
***1/2 (out of 5)
August 12, 2005
Kate Hudson as CAROLINE ELLIS
Gena Rowlands as VIOLET DEVEREAUX
John Hurt as BEN DEVEREAUX
Peter Sarsgaard as LUKE
Joy Bryant as JILL
Directed by: Iain Softley
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There hasn’t been a really good voodoo movie in a while. And that’s a shame because I like voodoo movies. “Angel Heart” still scares me. “The Serpent and the Rainbow” was pretty slick, if not a little goofy in parts. And “The Believers” was a work of art. But voodoo horror films haven’t really caught on like ghost stories or haunted houses.
Because voodoo horror movies have been in short supply, “The Skeleton Key” felt really fresh. From watching the trailers, you might think this is going to be just a run-of-the-mill jump-‘em-and-scare-‘em fright flick. In fact, I’ve heard it compared (unfairly, of course) to “The Grudge.”
But “The Skeleton Key” is a movie all it’s own. While it has its jumpy moments, it’s really more of a suspense movie and mystery than a horror film. In reality, the biggest similarity to “The Grudge” is its set-up. Otherwise, it goes in a totally different direction.
Caroline (Kate Hudson) is a Louisiana hospice care worker who is quickly getting tired of the “business is business” mentality of the hospitals. She decides to go freelance and gets a job caring for an old man in the bayou who has just had a stroke. It’s an old, creepy guy with his old, creepy wife. They live in an old, creepy house in the swamp where old and creepy things start to happen.
Caroline soon begins to suspect the wife (Gena Rowlands) of planning something devious for the old man (John Hurt). She starts to learn more about the local traditions and hoodoo (the evil side of the voodoo religion).
Remember when Hudson was a rising star? It was right after “Almost Famous” which made her more than famous with a bit part and a major spot on the movie’s poster. But soon, she started to show up in bombs like “Alex & Emma” and “Raising Helen.” After a string of disappointments, Kate Hudson returns to a starring vehicle, choosing a different path than she did before.
This is clearly a vehicle for Kate Hudson. It’s not such an obvious display of her acting as the lukewarm “Dark Water” was for Jennifer Connelly, but it’s still definitely made for her. And she handles the part well. She’s very convincing in the film, and she looks great – especially the scenes where she’s sleeping in a tight T-shirt and hot pants. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist pointing this out. I’m only human.)
The cast is relatively small, pretty much comprising Hudson, Rowlands and Hurt. Peter Sarsgaard comes off well as the old couple’s lawyer trying to settle their estate before they die. Finally, Joy Bryant supports the film as Caroline’s friend.
The story is pretty well crafted by the talented Ehren Kruger, the man who gave us “Arlington Road” and “The Ring.” There’s a certain level of predictability, but it’s all good for a thriller. Even if you can figure out how things are going to end, it’s still enjoyable to watch it all unfold.