The Skeleton Key


I could have sworn I heard an exasperated sigh from the collective cinema-going community when the trailer for The Skeleton Key appeared a month or so ago. Isn’t everyone sick of spooky supernatural thrillers, especially considering that The Sixth Sense came out in 1999?

The Skeleton KeyWell, I for one am not. I’m always up for a B-grade thriller, particularly a supernatural one, and it seems that others are too, for the film has been in the top 3 box office listings for a week or so in Australia as this goes to ‘print’. Kate Hudson (Raising Helen) I’m sure is the major attraction for many, and here she struts her stuff with style. Not just a pretty face, she is an accomplished actress, although she is shown in The Skeleton Key perpetuating the myth that women always wear designer underwear to bed. She is joined by a great supporting cast, in particular the graceful Gena Rowlands (The Notebook) with a wicked glint in her eye. John Hurt (Hellboy) is the perfect invalid (he didn’t get to walk around much way back in 1978’s Alien, either), and I wonder if it would be disturbing to play someone so bedridden when one is so old in reality? Peter Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass) has been quickly racking up appearances of late, and he has lots of fun in a subsidiary role.

As is often the case in horror movies, the house itself is an important character and is a perfect setting, even if some of the architecture is rather baffling. Taking another step back, the ‘deep south’ is again another character prevalent in movies dabbling in voodoo, and it’s about time we saw some good old-fashioned voodoo (or hoodoo, which I understand to be a more appropriate term considering former is a legitimate religion – far from the presentation offered in Live and Let Die). Why aren’t there more voodoo films? They seem to be few and far between (The Serpent and the Rainbow, Angel Heart, um… Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil), and yet there is a wealth of tradition, history and mythology waiting just around the corner for the inquisitive screenwriter.

The Skeleton Key is predictable, yes, and only scary in the flimsiest sense. It’s basically a case of ‘sign post the tension… then make a loud noise’. There’s no subtle creeping horror such as you would find in The Ring (Ringu), which seems to be quickly becoming the benchmark for modern horror in my reviews. There are some classy flashbacks that work rather well, and brought to mind the totally absurd yet effective ‘flashbacks from a vinyl recording’ technique used in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, what with all the face-to-camera shots.

Predictable and cliché-ridden, The Skeleton Key is the perfect time-waster, and by no means a ‘bad’ film.

Rating: 2.5 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 31st August 2005
Hoopla Factor: 3.5 stars

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