The Skeleton Key
From the coming attractions
trailer for The Skeleton Key, I have to admit I thought the movie was
going to be a stylized American version of the Japanese ghost stories that
have crowded the multiplexes in recent years -- stuff like The Ring, The
Grudge and Dark Water. While I knew that Skeleton Key
was not specifically a remake of an Asian film, I figured it was
inspired and styled after these films.
While I had some interest in
seeing the movie, I missed the short run in the theaters. Catching up to
few months later as it makes it to DVD, I find that I could not have been
more wrong with my early assumption. The Skeleton Key is
actually nothing like those glossy-but-slightly-incoherent haunting tales.
Instead it is a very specifically American tale -- a Southern gothic chiller
in which the ghosts are something of a mirage.
Instead, this film delves
into a much less overused corner of the supernatural; the Cajun black magic
called Hoodoo. Hoodoo is a darker, more demonic cousin of voodoo which
flourishes in the Louisiana bayous. While the actual hoodoo curses are
less scary at first than they could be (they only work if the cursed
believes in them), quickly the twists and turns of the plot do become truly chilling.
The story is about Caroline
"Cary" Ellis, a northern girl living in New Orleans. She feels guilty
about not being home to care for her father when he died, so she has thrown
herself into a job as a hospice care worker. Cali girl Kate Hudson
does a good job of playing this Jersey-ite out of her element, although she
never quite gets the East Coast accent down (she also conspicuously mispronounces
her supposed hometown of Hoboken, NJ, accenting the wrong "o" in the city's
When a favorite patient dies
and the nursing home which employs Cary seems to see it as just an
annoyance, she decides to take a new position deep in the bayous. In this
job, she moves to a huge old gothic manor to help an elderly woman (Gena
Rowlands) nurse her husband (John Hurt) who has been incapacitated by a
stroke. She is hired by a cute and extremely helpful lawyer (Peter
Sarsgaard) who also seems to have romantic attentions for the young nurse.
The longer that Cary lives
in the home, the more convinced she becomes that the wife is somehow hurting
the husband. Also, while snooping around the huge old plantation, she
learns of the place's tragic past -- many years earlier a hoodoo priest and
his wife who were working as servants were lynched by an angry mob.
At first, Cary scoffs at the
supernatural tales, but as more and more inexplicable events occur her
cynicism about the black arts starts to waver. She periodically goes
back to New Orleans to see her best friend and roommate, who just happens to
have an aunt who is a believer in hoodoo. In fact, the movie has another
troubling undercurrent that is completely unintended. Some of the most
disturbing scenes, catching the movie months after its theatrical release on
video, are the vibrant street scenes filmed in a pre-Katrina New Orleans.
The Skeleton Key
does have a true stunner of a surprise ending --
one that relies on logic that I suspect may fall apart upon multiple
viewings, but it is a climax which will leave your mouth agape when you
experience it the first time. For this reason alone, The Skeleton
Key is time well spent. Luckily for us, there are even more
reasons to watch.
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Posted: December 9, 2005.