A slick well-budgeted horror film with excellent cinematography, The Skeleton Key starts out quite moody & evocative, with a stunningly good & eerie soundscape. A senior caregiver (Kate Hudson) is hired to care for an old man (John Hurt) in his last few weeks of life, for since his stroke his wife (Gina Rowlands) can no longer manage him by herself. The job requires Caroline to be a live-in caregiver way out in a bayou estate a good drive from New Orleans.
The house has history. A couple of generations back, two hoodoo practicing black servants were caught involving the white family's children in their magic arts, so were summarily lynched & set on fire by a boozing party of wealthy southerners.
The slain servants seemingly still haunt the mansion. Caroline finds a secret "hoodoo room" hidden in the back of the attic. Her helpless old ward is trying to communicate with her the whole while, until she figures out he's scared to death not so much of the house's ghosts, but of his wife, who Caroline comes to believe has learned hoodoo from the evil black ghosts themselves.
As complications & twists of plot unfold, Caroline decides to help the old man escape, until hoodoo hell breaks out & she finds herself up against damned hellish magic. The story seemed always to have only one or two places to lead, & I was really hoping for a surprise, but the "surprise" ending of this one was the most obvious thing, & not all that satisfying.
Caroline tries to use some hoodoo of her own after a quick visit to New Orleans for advice from some local-color black woman, but nothing is quite as she believed it was, so nothing works out in her favor. She's heading for that cruel no-big-surprise ending which is supposed to be kind of fierce & horrific, but which causes one to think, gee, ain't that too bad.
Gina Rowlands turns in by far the best performance, not that she has much competition. Like Bette Davis in her last years hamming it up as a scary hag in horror films, Gina, once one of America's absolutely finest & sexiest actors especially in the films of her husband John Cassavetes, could easily have a second-wind for her career if she wants to appear in more horror films.
The letterbox dvd issue has plenty of extras including Kate Hudson telling her own true (& truly dull) ghost story & some stuff about how hoodoo & voodoo aren't the same thing. The director seems to have realized he had some responsibilitly to not make the voodoo religion look like satan worship, but by & large this film presents a highly questionable portrait of black folks as evil & their superstitions as real magic harmful to white people & even those lynchings of blacks way-back-when served the purposes of those demonic hoodoo doctors. With power like that even slavery must've been black folks' choice.
Had it been possible to avoid the not-so-subliminal racism of this film's assumptions & assertions, a way less predictable story would have been required for any of it to have been successful. Oh, & the title of the film has nothing to do with anything, as the skeleton key means squat.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl