Movie Review

The Skeleton Key

Fearing Is Believing
The Skeleton Key Movie Poster

US Release Date: 08-12-2005

Directed by: Iain Softley


  • Kate Hudson
  • Caroline
  • Gena Rowlands
  • Violet
  • Peter Sarsgaard
  • Luke
  • John Hurt
  • Ben
  • Joy Bryant
  • Jill
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: August 7th, 2005
Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

One of the plot points of The Skeleton Key is that black magic (or Hoodoo as it is called in this movie) can only affect you if you believe in it. The same can be said of the movie itself. If you can believe in it, you will probably fall under its spell. If, like me, however, you never quite buy into the easily predictable premise, you will be left wondering where the magic is.

Kate Hudson stars as Caroline, a young hospice worker with lingering guilt over her absence during the death of her father. After growing tired of working in a hospital where the dead, she feels, are treated without compassion, she accepts the job of caring for Ben (Hurt), a recent stroke victim who lives with his wife, Violet (Rowlands), in an old mansion in the swamps outside of New Orleans. It isn't long before Caroline discovers that the house has a sordid past involving the murder of two black servants who were also advanced practitioners of Hoodoo. Caroline begins to suspect that there is more to Ben's stroke than can be readily explained; especially when she discovers that the place Ben had his stroke is in the same location as where the servants practiced their Hoodoo rituals. Her suspicions are further raised by Violet's own increasingly erratic behavior and claims that there are ghosts in the house.

The one thing this movie doesn't lack is acting ability. Hudson does a great job as the ever more hysterical Caroline, trying to keep a grip on reality as the supernatural explodes around her. As she proved in Almost Famous, she is a serious actress who should try for more serious roles. Unfortunately, up next for her is a remake of I Dream of Jeanie, with Hudson in the lead.

Rowlands and Hurt also do good work. Hurt, who only has a few lines in the movie due to the stroke, still manages to convey quite convincingly, a man totally scared out of his mind. And Rowlands, despite being born in Wisconsin, continues her habit of playing Southern women, as she's done in The Notebook and Hope Floats. And playing the family lawyer is the always reliable Peter Sarsgaard. I've been a fan of his ever since seeing him in his Oscar nominated role in Shattered Glass. And while it's quite clear that he's slumming it in this horror movie, he still manages to do yeoman service in the part.

When it comes to a horror movie though, the acting isn't the most important part. What you really need are chills and thrills and this movie is very much lacking in both. It does have atmosphere, with its crumbling old home nestled in the swamp, but not enough use is made of it. Instead there is a claustrophobic feel to the story that never takes full advantage of what the location has to offer. And the ending, which is supposed to be a twist, was painfully predictable.

Ever since The Ring (and this movie was written by the same person), there has been a plethora of horror movies of dubious quality. And while this movie certainly possesses a talented cast of actors, it too has to be marked down as a disappointment.

Reviewed on: June 16th, 2006
Gena Rowlands and Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

Gena Rowlands and Kate Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

Scott, you are way too hard on this movie. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I agree with you that it has stellar acting and a great creepy atmosphere. But as far as the horror aspect goes, unlike you, I liked the fact that this isn't a mindless slasher movie or an over-the-top, ghosts-gone-wild special effects job. It tells a legible and intriguing story that I bought into completely. The way this movie was marketed was a bit misleading perhaps and this may explain why it didn't fare well at the box office. (Oh and by the way, the term Hoodoo wasn't made up for this movie, it is a common word used to describe black magic in the Southern African American community.)

I also strongly disagree about the twist ending. It has two levels to it. While the first level is visible from early on in the movie, the final twist caught me a bit by surprise. But the way that the magic works (you have to believe in it) and the wonderful acting makes the ending both unexpected and horrifying in a psychological way.

Hudson does do good work here, and Hurt is great in a very one-dimensional role, but it is Rowlands that easily steals the movie. She chews the scenery in her best Southern Gothic manner and gets the best lines. After wrestling with Kate Hudson at one point she goes over a railing and rolls down a flight of stairs, then after crawling back up them she tells Hudson in a matter of fact voice, “Child, I believe you broke my legs.”

Eric has written that if the characters in a movie don't seem to care or buy into the plot then why should the audience. Skeleton Key works because the actors are not only incredibly talented but they throw themselves wholeheartedly into their roles and the world being conjured on the screen.

Reviewed on: March 16th, 2009
Sarsgaard and Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

Sarsgaard and Hudson in The Skeleton Key.

Yes, Caroline cares. In fact she cares too much. Who told her to go snooping around the house? She goes upstairs, into the attic and breaks into a room that is obviously meant to stay closed. She drops and breaks something, and then steals a record. She should have minded her own business.

The old house drips with entropy like moss hanging off a tree. It is the perfect location for a ghost story. Like Scott though, I felt it was not fully utilized. The house never became a character as it should have. I wonder if they used more than one location for the house.

My favorite line in the movie is when Violet tells Caroline, “You think too much about the time you have left- You don't spend it living.” Violet is a smart old broad, while Caroline is not too swift. Shortly after getting the job, Violet warns her about going into the attic as it supposedly holds many expensive crystals and antiques. The next day, Violet sends her up to the attic to get her some flower seeds she just happened to leave there. I guess Caroline was too anxious to sneak around to notice that an old woman would not store her seeds up two flights of stairs in a room that supposedly held expensive items.

Caroline cares, but she really is a dumb ass.