The Skeleton Key is among the lesser of the juicy yarns that scare-flicks go by. For all those who believe in extracting their money's worth in terms of panic-perspire-spine-chill reaction, this is not a movie to indulge in. It builds-up little in terms of adrenaline, targeting your curiosity more than your senses. But based on its logical presentation, and good performances, it makes a good watch, especially for the novices who want to dabble in the horror-genre.
As the movie's tagline goes, if you believe, you can believe yourself into getting goose-bumpy by the flick - there are black-magic spells that make you ill, lynchings that almost feel justified, and mumified human organs bordering on gore. However, if you choose to brave on with a pinch of salt, then you'll land up staring at abundant but harmless Hoodoo paraphernalia, lab-specimens, dewy-eyed old hags, and a house that's like, well, any other you've seen before.
The story goes this way. Carolina Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a young energetic hospice worker, who gets a call to look after the paralytic Ben Devereaux (John Hurst) at a countryside house in Louisiana. The job is finalized through Luke (Peter Sarasgaard), who is the lawyer and acquaintance of the Devereauxs.
Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) is a dominating wife who likes to keep things, including her husband Ben, under her thumb. Carolina and Violet gel like napalm and charge - there are fireworks whenever the duo meet on screen. Violet has patented interesting aversions, like ensuring a mirror-free house, and declaring her attic a do-not-disturb area. For Carolina, mirror-shunning and minding-her-own-biz are too much to ask for from someone as attractive and as inquisitive as herself.
Ignoring the rule that going against the wishes of one's employer is an easy route to unemployment, Carolina sails forth on her own journey of exploration. She sees her dead father in Ben, at least emotianally. Hoodoo or not, she also feels the palpable vibes that Ben directs at her - and correctly assumes them to be cries for help. Her quest to help the dying man leads her across doors kept tightly locked. She stumbles over the in-house assembly-line of Hoodoo end-and-by-products - human dolls with their eyes and lips sewed, jars of pickled heads and hands, assortment of bones, powders, conjurer records and chalk...
While ordinary mortals would have developed cold feet, Carolina goes trotting all over town in search for counter strategies for what she believes ails Ben - his wife's desire to cut and paste a few years of his life to her own life-span, via Hoodoo. Carolina's rescue endeavors slowly make her a believer - and that's when the real trouble begins.
Kate Hudson has proved that there is more to her than what can be hidden in her panties - though she does look good in her scanty nightwear. Matching wits with Gena Rowlands (who herself, at 75 years, has surpassed all conventions and rules of acting), Kate has given a credible performance, blending the right mix of fear, curiosity and anger in her act. Peter Sarasgaard, as the sweet and subtle Luke, throws you off-track by appearing redundant in the first half. The man, as the movie, pick up pace slowly.
The Skeleton Key ends with a climax which will hit you harder than any assets requisitioned to scare you throughout its reel. Not only is it unconventional, it will also make the entire flick flash back across your eyes with chunks of revelations falling in places where there were gaps before. It certainly falls short of a nail-biting and spine-tickling pace - with the fear factor entirely left to your imagination. It is an entirely new genre within the genre of scare-flicks - not wanting to harass your senses with peripherals, but enigmatic enough for you to feel satiated in the end.