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The Skeleton Key
2005 - PG-13 - 104 Mins.
Director: Iain Softley
Producer: Iain Softley
Written By: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard
Review by: Joe Rickey
Official Site:

I dreamed I'd do more with my career after that Oscar...
Kate Hudson has made a career out of starring predominantly in romantic comedies such as 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.' Well, after last summer's 'Raising Helen' tanked she has decided to branch out into the PG-13 horror sub-genre popularized by the likes of 'The Grudge' and 'The Ring', the one that started the trend back in 2002. Her entry into the sweepstakes is 'The Skeleton Key,' a film written by Ehren Kruger (who wrote 'The Ring' and its sequel) and directed by Iain Softley ('K-PAX').

Hudson stars as a hospice caretaker for an elderly couple (Gena Rowlands and John Hurt) in the backwoods of Louisiana. Upon her arrival at the expansive estate where they live, she is given a "Skeleton key" with the ability to open seemingly every room in the house. Well, it is not long before she discovers this to be far from the truth as the key fails to open a door in the attic and the couple aren't exactly forthcoming when asked about it. As she begins to investigate, strange happenings begin to occur, many of them having to do with the world of Voodoo. Said occurrences are at first relatively benign but they soon threaten the well being of the estate's inhabitants.

'The Skeleton Key' attempts to make something old (Voodoo) new again by making it the center-piece of a horror film. This tactic had some potential as Voodoo is inherently creepy (all the chanting and black magic) but it is not to be as the end product is, for the most part, a generic supernatural thriller. One hopes that next month's 'Venom,' written by Kevin 'Scream' Williamson takes a more inventive approach to the topic of Voodoo.

The film's problems start with a scattershot and undernourished screenplay. Kruger falters where he excelled with 'The Ring' as he fails to provide a well-developed back story, mythos if you will, to the events at hand. Vodoo practically screams out for an expansive and rich back story but what we are given here are a few grainy and shoddily edited scenes filmed in black and white. Perhaps the fault also lies with director Softley as he favors the jumpy camera so irritatingly common these days, maybe as a function of avoiding the dreaded R-rating as it is often difficult to see what is happening, a problem especially during the flashback sequences.

The film also struggles to provide anything new in the scare department. No matter how many odd camera angles are used, a loud noise as a scare tactic just doesn't cut it. The film is further hampered as Kruger's screenplay seems to plan everything for the almost inevitable twist which pulls the rug out from under the viewer. He did this incredibly well with 1999's brilliant paranoia thriller 'Arlington Road' but here the twist can be seen or even guessed by anyone who has viewed a thriller or two during their lifetime.

In the performance department, the film gets it right however. In the lead, Hudson is likable and thankfully resists the temptation to go over the top. Rowlands and Hurt both do their part as well with Rowlands obviously relishing her role as the creepy wife. Lending support as a friend of the family, Peter Sarsgaard once again shows why he is one of the better young actors working today with a perfectly understated turn.

In the end though, 'The Skeleton Key' does not bring anything new to the supernatural horror genre and thus cannot be recommended unless you are a die-hard fan of such offerings.
Movie Guru Rating
Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better. Disappointing.  Had the right ingredients and should have been better.
  2 out of 5 stars

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