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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2005!
THE SKELETON KEY, 2005
Starring: Kate Hudson, Gena Rowland, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt
The Skeleton Key is about a 25-year old girl who gets a job as a caretaker living in a plantation home in Terrebone Parish, Louisiana. She soon discovers the scary attic in the house, with all sorts of hoodoo recipes, spells, books, etc. She starts to investigate and question Violet, the owner of the house, about the secrets. But if she believes in what she discovers, it will all become real!
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There was a time where I liked small towns, particularly rural areas with swamps and marsh ground with great big houses. This film, whilst not jump-behind-the-sofa scary, changed that. At the time this film originally came out, it was refreshing to see a horror tale with atmosphere, fairly interesting characters and a horror element that was actually rather creepy, compared to all the gore infest thrillers they try to pass off as horror these days.
The story starts with a young hospice care taker Carrie (Hudson) who, after realizing that work is more a business of making money rather than caring for people, decides to quit. Fortunately for her in this economy, she finds a listing in the paper for a stay-at-home care taker which pays ridiculously well. This is where the swamps and big house come in. She visits to find a hesitant Gena Rowlands who doesn't want a stranger in the house looking after her husband (John Hurt) in spite of her lawyer's protest. The charming Southern lawyer (Sarsgaard) sweet-talks her into giving a shot and this is where things will start to get odd.
The house, we learn, has a lot of rules. For starters, there are no mirrors allowed, though it's not elaborately explained why yet. We also learn that the home-owner has a skeleton key, which opens all but one door in the house. Carrie is told that no one has been in the secret room in the attic and no one should. Naturally, this intrigues our plucky heroine - particularly when running errands in the attic she hears strange noises coming from the room that no one could/had supposedly been in for decades.
Clues lead her to suspect something is afoot. Hoodoo, to be precise. Not the religion Voodoo which we're all probably familiar with through movies, but rather the dark arts which has roots from Africa, Europe and parts of America - thought to have started here in the swamps of New Orleans. Fortunately for Carrie, her best friend (Joy Bryant) happens to know someone who knows more. Unfortunately, she starts to find that nothing is at all what it seems in these swamps...
The film runs well with good actors enhancing the story, though John Hurt who plays a bed-ridden stroke victim seems like an add-on for the sake of having a name actor. The other principle actors do well, particularly the charming-yet-cold at the same time Gena Rowlands who wears a rather good poker face throughout the film. But is she a villain or a tortured old lady? You'll have to watch to find out. Hudson is likable as the idealist hero, though like the stars of most fun horror movies, you want to scream at her for doing something silly. Sarsgaard is a great addition to the cast as the only character who doesn't seem to have a troubled past. He plays the nice guy well enough to make you wonder if there is more to him, which adds a nice splash of mystery to round everything off.
The direction by Softley was understated and simple yet affective. He's done a good job with the actors as well as the production designers to create a great atmosphere blending warmth and darkness together with an interesting result. The cinematography helps with it's often high contrast shots and eerie camera movements.
Whilst the film isn't all that original as a whole, it is fairly well written, suspenseful and has a twist that makes sense to the story being told which makes you forgive it for any other problems it may have. In some respects, it plays quite well as a pseudo film noir as it's filled with mistrust, femme fatales (of sorts) and creepy, dark settings that play equally well as an atmospheric thriller as it does horror.
Going in with an open mind should leave you satisfied with the last 90 minutes of your life. It's certainly better than most "horror" films of this century to date. It's definitely worth the rental on a sleepless night.
Just don't watch it if you plan on visiting the Bayous over the weekend.