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Unoriginal ‘Skeleton Key’ unlocks no thrills

Mark Bemenderfer | Wednesday, August 31, 2005

At this point, a twist ending would constitute a thriller not actually involving a twist. In recent years, it has become all too common for movies to try to incorporate some sort of twist in hopes of salvaging an otherwise forgettable movie. This trend has once again been displayed in Iain Softley’s “The Skeleton Key,” a movie that works off an original premise, yet manages to fall back into the usual trappings of the genre.

“The Skeleton Key” starts off with Caroline (Kate Hudson) becoming disillusioned with her role as a hospice worker in a care center. In efforts to do more to help people, she quits her job at the center and takes up a job as a private caretaker at a plantation. The hours are good, and she is able to continue her nursing degree while she cares for the elderly couple at the plantation.

The husband (John Hurt) has recently had a stroke, and requires assisted living. The wife (Gena Rowlands) is suspicious of Caroline and her northern habits, but allows her to take the job. While working there, Caroline begins to discover that all is not as it seems, and that a dark magic called Hoodoo may be involved.

The original premise is nice, but can only carry the movie so far. The film seems confused about what it wishes to accomplish. At times it wants to be horror, at others it wants to be a thriller. While some might argue that there is little distinction between the two, “The Skeleton Key” demonstrates that such an assumption is not true. The film is all buildup and no payoff. At times, it tries to evoke a sense of horror that never comes. At others, it tries to leave the viewer in suspense. Once again, it fails. Watching the movie, one is kept waiting for a strong emotion of any sort, which, once again, never comes.

It’s not the acting that fails the movie. All of the actors perform decently within the confines of the script, with no noticeable sore spots. They are all are fairly established actors, and this shows, thanks to the fine performances.

Kate Hudson, who also appeared In “Raising Helen” and “Almost Famous,” does well within her own role. Her increasing awareness of the mysteries around her is transferred onto the screen well, creating empathy with the viewer.

John Hurt is especially convincing in his role as Ben Devereaux, the stroke afflicted patient that Caroline is hired to tend. Being unable to move for much of the movie, he could only convey emotions through using his eyes, and subtle movements. These were all done commendably.

Hurt certainly has earned his screen presence, having starred in over 120 movies during his career.

The script isn’t bad either. Plotholes are not too prevalent, and it actually feels like a decent story. The setting is moderately unsettling, as is the house the old married couple live in. The subject matter is mysterious, which is a good recipe for horror. On paper, it was probably much scarier than it ultimately became on the screen.

The director, Iian Softley, has only six movies in his repertoire. This could explain the lack of any real substance to the film’s style.

Points should be given for the chosen subject alone, as movies based around voodoo and hoodoo are rare. When asked, some might think back and remember “Predator 2,” which had some elements of voodoo in it. Movies that are based solely around those pagan practices are next to non-existent. Then again, “The Skeleton Key,” and movies like it, may be the very reason more are not created, since they fail to impress.

The main shortcoming of the movie is that it failed to fulfill its promises. The previews hinted at a possibly scary, potentially thrilling movie. The end product failed to evoke any emotions that associated with either. It’s not necessarily a bad movie, but neither is it a good one. There are much better movies out there worth seeing.