The Skeleton Key

Kate Hudson is an established actress, so there's no reason for her to appear in a horror movie. Usually, actors do these films at the beginning of their career (like Gossip). So there must be something unusual about The Skeleton Key that drew Hudson to the film. In fact, the cast is pretty impressive. Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, and a minor role by Joy Bryant round out the cast. This is a good cast. What's the deal with this movie? Well, it is better than most horror movies. It's still not a great film. It does have a brain, and does try to make sure that everything makes sense logically within the bounds of the film. The most impressive fact is that in a genre that is copied to death, there are a few plot points that are unexpected.

Hudson (Raising Helen, Le Divorce) is Caroline Ellis, a nurse hired to take care of Ben Devereaux (Hurt, Hellboy, Dogville), who just suffered a stroke. Ben lives with his wife Violet (Rowlands, The Notebook, Taking Lives) in a large mansion deep in the Bayou of Lousiana. Ben had a stroke. He cannot speak and has limited movement. Violet is wary of Ellis, who did not grow up in the South. She is afraid that Violet will not understand a lot of their customs and culture. Still, the Devereaux's have had a problem keeping nurses, so Violet relents. She gives Ellis a skeleton key that opens every door in the house except for one in the attic. Ellis, a naturally curious woman, wants to know what is inside.

Of course this is a mistake, and things go downhill for Ellis from this point in. The difference here is Ehren Kruger's (The Ring 2, The Ring) script. Unlike most horror movie characters, Ellis is not a passive participant. She is smart, and she takes action. She knows when she's in over her head, and goes for help. Most interestingly, she takes an active role in trying to combat what she discovers. The Skeleton Key drenches itself in the supernatural South. Everybody except Ellis is extremely superstitious, doing things like hanging chicken bones outside or putting red brick dust outside a door to keep evil away. Everything looks suitably creepy and rundown, and some of the typical cliches like creaking floorboards and slamming doors are used. Ellis believes none of this, but realizes that if Ben believes, than a hoodoo (an altruistic form of voodoo) remedy may help his condition.

Hudson is an actor of tremendous talent. Aside from Almost Famous, she has yet to find another role that uses all of her considerable talent. Director Iain Softley (K-PAX, The Wings of the Dove) certainly doesn't. He seems more focuses on creating a spooky house (he succeeds here) than on Hudson. Another part of the problem is that while Kruger's screenplay does make her character more believable as a person, this is only in relation to other horror movies. Rowlands and Hurt also give interesting performances. For Hurt, he has to convey a large range of emotions with a minimum of movement. Rowlands comes off as extremely creepy. She seems to be a nice old lady on the outside, but Ellis suspects something extremely sinister just underneath the surface.

Haro Rates It: Okay.
1 hour, 40 minutes, Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity, and thematic material.

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