The Skeleton Key


5 out of 10


Campy Horror Flick

Sinister and creepy, this dark suspenseful thriller by British director Ian Softley (Backbeat, Hackers), opens with young nurse (Kate Hudson) Caroline Ellis applying to care for aging stroke victim Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) as a live-in nurse in a dilapidated rural Louisiana plantation. With Ben unable to speak and in a fearful state, Ellis attempts to find out more about her ward's mysterious past and stumbles upon the terrible secret of the history of both the plantation and its present owners.

A haunting film, with an incredibly unexpected and brilliant ending, the director and cinematographer Daniel Mindell (Domino, Bourne Identity) both succeed well at creating a frightening and claustrophic atmosphere with chilling performances by John Hurt and Gina Rowland. Kate Hudson is also strong in her first horror role as Caroline and Peter Sarsgaard is perfect as charming Southern lawyer and Ellis's love interest.

Similar to Flatliners and Jacob's Ladder, the natural beauty of the settings and locations, and the incredible lighting (or lack of) create a dark bayou atmosphere perfect for the subject of Hoodoo, a mysterious form of Cajun magic. Skeleton Key swiftly gives the impression that with the legacy of slavery, everywhere in the South has at least one skeleton in its closet and a feeling of vaguely undefined creepiness and tension is created that lasts until the end. Also notable is the soundtrack containing jazz and blues from the early 20th century, including tracks by Joe Washburn, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Robert Johnson and eerie opening and closing song by Johnny Farmer, is astutely selected by British composor Edward Shearmur (Wimbledon, Sky Captain).

Written by Ehren Kruger, known for a series of lackluster scripts including the lamentable Ring 2, after being handed a dubious award for the mediocre Arlington Road, most of which involving the same basic premise people not being who they seem. Skeleton Key focuses on the scary moments and consistently attempts to hinder all efforts to be rescued by an impressive cast, including veteran British actor Ian Hurt (Alien), Kate Hudson (Almost Famous, Raising Helen) and Peter Sarsgaard (Garden State).

Overall, Ian Softley seems to have regained his stride after a long departure from directing and the film is a memorable one and fun viewing, if a little too predictable.

While having an interesting premise, incredible production design and special effects, the rather disjointed plot, poor character development and some campy horror flick moments seriously detract from its potential.

Interesting premise, poor development

Film Critic: Jenny M Lillies