"The Skeleton Key" review

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Robert Anthony, Jul 30, 2005.

  1. Robert Anthony

    Robert Anthony Producer

    Aug 31, 2003
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    Starring Kate Hudson, Peter Saarsgaard, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt. Written by Ehren Kruger, Directed by Iain Softley.

    The Skeleton Key is, essentially, a mediocre "Tales from the Crypt" episode that's been stretched out to about an hour and forty minutes. Only in the last 10 minutes does it actually succeed at finding the tone it ham-handedly stumbles about searching for in the first hour and a half. Hudson plays Caroline, a caretaker who is sick of the callousness of the industry in which she works. She takes a job living in a huge haunted Louisiana house, caring for John Hurt, a man who survived a supposed stroke on BOTH sides of his brain that renders him immobile and unresponsive. Hurt's wife, played by Gena Rowlands, in the only performance that posseses more than one dimension, objects to Hudson's intrusion into their lives. And then a whole bunch of hoodoo ensues. With a pedigree including the director of "Wings of the Dove," the writer of "Arlington Road," and starring Cassavetes' muse, the heart of both "Kinsey" and "Garden State," and Penny Lane herself, Kate Hudson, you'd think this movie would provide a beautiful blend of atmosphere, thrills, creepiness and real emotion, right?

    Whoever cut the trailer for this thing is an expert, as I'd rather watch the trailer for an hour-forty than I would watch this movie again. The atmosphere the trailer provides evaporates in the first 10 minutes. The acting is so disconnected that I wouldn't be surprised if the whole movie was shot using first takes, Ed Wood style. It feels as if the movie is reaching for "twists and turns" but everything is telegraphed so neatly and nicely that not a single surprise is to be found. The first half hour is almost totally unneccessary, storywise, and aside from a few really pretty shots, the movie doesn't actually dig into any substantial meat until around the 50-minute mark. Said meat is over-boiled fatty graymeat pork, unfortunately. Subplots and characters are introduced that add absolutely nothing, and Hudson's motivations are given to her by other characters instead of shown by Hudson. At it's base, the movie is the essence of what M. Night was talking about when he wrote the words "Stupid fucking white people." in the original ending to "Signs," as that's essentially what the movie boils down to: The bland, wide-eyed actions of some really stupid white people doing really stupid things. I found myself paying more attention to how totally brown John Hurt's teeth were, than the story at some points.

    The movie is at least 45 minutes too long, and while the dark ending provides a small amount of satisfaction, it's not enough to make up for the utterly boring movie that preceded it. I knew I was in for a struggle when about a half hour into the movie, there were all of 3 scares--all loud strings and ridiculous "Boo" moments that were completely toothless. The movie introduces a best friend character that does absolutely nothing except for confront Hudson about a past that's brought up twice but carries no weight at all, a voodoo gas station that seems to exist only to a) show how "creepy" the south is and b) provide a key point of exposition later in the movie, a voodoo laundromat where she learns some crash course hoodoo herself, and various hoodoo/voodoo explanations delivered by totally inconsequential and contrived characters, that cease to make sense once the final "twist" is finally played out as telegraphed a good half hour earlier, and actually, once reflected upon, completely negate the need for either the best friend, her relatives, or the voodoo gas station and laundromat.

    And yes, the movie asks you to play along with the idea that the south has voodoo gas stations and laundromats.

    A particularly nitpicky complaint that's a decent enough example of this lack of attention to substance and detail (and yes, this is pretty nitpicky): Hudson is prevented from escaping the house after ramming her Volkswagen into a gate and a huge statue, thus killing the engine. Except the Bug she's driving has it's engine located in the REAR of the car. The editing is setting us up to believe the wreck, and not some voodoo spell, is what disabled the car. Which is stupid. And that kind of easy stupidity permeates a large majority of the film.

    The only thing the film is to be commended for is following through on it's "dark" ending. Considering how willingly all involved succumb to nonsensical, unenjoyable unintentional cheesiness, (even hokey campiness would be preferred to the zombified earnestness most play their roles with) it would have been all too easy to paste in a rote happy finale. Credit must also be given to Daniel Mindel, who shoots a nice picture, even when those images are ultimately destroyed by director Softley and Editor Joe Hutshing in a mistaken decision to employ rack zooms and jumpy jittering in the frame during every "pivotal" moment that occurs.

    Every single one of the movies scares relies on the cheap "boo!" gimmick. And they are very goddamn tiresome. But really, it's all the movie has left when character motivation is lazily pasted in, and distracting editing shits all over the atmosphere the story is trying to spin. This movie is a huge waste of talent, atmosphere, and story, and is twice as frustrating for the earnestness and seriousness the actors are trying to get across to an audience that will largely find this whole exercise wholly unsatisfying.
  2. Simon Massey

    Simon Massey Cinematographer

    Aug 9, 2001
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    Simon Massey
    I agree with the above. I thought the ending was great especially when you consider the flashback we had been shown. Unfortunately the rest of the film is a huge letdown.
  3. Amy Mormino

    Amy Mormino Supporting Actor

    Jan 16, 2004
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    I saw this one yesterday and it was one of those movies that makes me felt that I'd wasted my time. It has an interesting ending and some decent atmosphere, but it is very ordinary and not scary. It did make me wish, though, that there were more U.S. horror films that would use of regional settings.
  4. Josh.C

    Josh.C Second Unit

    Dec 20, 2005
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    Well, it's taken me this long to catch this film, and I feel the need to drop a positive review. Maybe it was the right timing, the stars were aligned just right last night, etc...., but I really enjoyed this film.

    I thought it was shot very nicely, and being a Southerner I completely bought into the Hoodoo stuff (not that I believe it) in that part of Louisiana. I have lots of family from that area and one that's 100% Cajun. The story was entertaining enough to keep me involved until the end of the film where the director completely brought it home, with a very clever twist. After the final twist was revealed I played the movie back in my mind, and it really worked nicely.

    Here I am on my own little limb on this film I missed in theaters. 4/5 stars. Heck, I'd give it 3 stars just for the Kate Hudson Shower sequence [​IMG]


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