Movie Review: The Skeleton Key - iVillage

Kate Hudson fans are not ready for her as a horror-movie maiden in distress. The sunny blonde's disposition usually cheers people up even in the most dour of circumstances, but she is so utterly freaky in this New Orleans-set voodoo chiller that she will forever change the prevailing thoughts about her.

Her character, Caroline Ellis, is a troubled young woman trying to cope with grief over her father's death by becoming a hospice nurse. She heads out to a remote Louisiana estate to care for an elderly stroke victim, at the behest of the family's lawyer (Peter Sarsgaard), and takes on the challenge with aplomb.

But there are creeps around every corner in the giant old mansion, where the many, many doors open with one master skeleton key and the spotty electricity service casts shadows over everything. The diffident matron of the house, Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands), has removed all the mirrors, creating a kind of dead zone in the house where there is no reflected reality. Nothing is as it seems, and it's not long before Caroline begins to have paranoid doubts about everything, including Violet's commitment to caring for her sick husband Ben (John Hurt), who makes a valiant effort to communicate through the fear in his eyes.

There's something about pouring rain that makes scary movies even scarier. Being set on the bayou, this movie has more than an ample amount of precipitation to heighten the tension. Even when it's not coming down so hard that it seems like the ground is going to be swallowed up by the bordering swamp, the atmosphere is drenched with humidity. It's a wonder anyone can move. Even when the situation turns frantic, the actors are languid in their motion.

This is part of British director Iain Softley's plan not to rush any of the action along. He uses the shadows and the dark corners to tease the audience, creating those jump-from-your-seat moments just for fun. His real scares come from the psychological tension of the supernatural, and voodoo is the perfect vehicle for this. The movie never asks the audience to buy into the force fields created by brick dust or the potency of the potions one can cook up with chicken's feet and human hair. The actors simply sell the fact that their characters believe in the black magic so strongly that it makes it come true for them. They get that point across so well &#8209- especially during the jaw-dropping twist in the final showdown &#8209- that this movie will make anyone who watches it hide under the bed during the next thunderstorm.


iVillage Mood Meter: Will make you very afraid of Kate Hudson


Stars: Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard, Gena Rowlands
Director: Iain Softley
Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger
Producers: Daniel Bobker, Michael Shamberg, Stacey Sher, Iain Softley
Release date: August 12, 2005, limited
Rated: PG-13
Distributor: Universal

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