The Skeleton Key Review
Let me be honest here and state that the title, while mentioned in the movie, has no real meaning to the actual plot. That said, the actual story isn't bad.
Catherine, played by Kate Hudson, works in a hospital caring for those who are about to shed their mortal coil. However, she becomes very distressed in the manner that the hospital doesn't care once the person has died - they just discard the personal possessions and wheel the next body in, so to speak - and so decides to quit and become a residential nurse, after an advert catches her eye in the paper. She soon gains this job, leading her to have a client in the form of Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), who has apparently suffered a stroke, paralysing him, but it is soon revealed that this condition is the result of magic, or hoodoo, placed on him by the ghosts of Cecile and Justify, the two slaves who were hanged and burned alive by there masters and guests during a drunken party. However, mysterious events plunge Catherine deeper into trouble and all is not as it seems.To elaborate further would indeed ruin the movie, so I will say no more, even though this is not an exceptional film. That said, it is an enjoyable one, with Hudson being quite engaging in an unusually non-comedic role. I will admit that I didn't warm to the movie straight away, I actually switched it off half way through due to being bored but I gave it a second stab and found it reasonably entertaining, possibly as I was quite tired the first time around. Having said that, I will say the less you know going in, the better it is and I will elaborate BUT I would suggest skipping the next paragraph not because I am giving a spoiler, but a critique that may lessen the movie. You have been warned!
It has been suggested that knowing that something unexpected is going to happen lessens the effect. Take The Sixth Sense, an average movie elevated by the revelations of the closing minutes. Now how many people were looking for the twist ending due to word of mouth or reviews? So it holds true here or in fact more so, as the twist was given a status of being amazing and different based on some of what I had read. Only problem though is I had seen it before. Twice actually and both in recent-ish memory. No I will not name the movies but both starred A-list talent who have won Oscars but not for those movies. I basically felt cheated! Hence I abhor spoilers or even major plot revelations because it either makes something feel hyped or a let down and this ending, while a good ending which makes sense, was indeed just that.
OK that's the end of the potential spoiler, on with the rest of the review. The movie does rely on some stingers and it is, as most horrors are, pretty hit and miss but what is more interesting is how the plot develops with its revelations along the way. In fact, it is very well written and structured, more so for an alleged horror movie. When the end-game plays out, everything fits into place finally, from the smallest detail at the start of the movie, through to the hints and clues throughout; you don't feel that they've missed a trick even if you feel that the ending is familiar. In fact there is something rather eerie in seeing New Orleans before the recent tragedy that hit there, but the cinematography is superb and captures this part of the US exceptionally well. It's also worth noting that, while the first 60 minutes seems to run at a slightly pedestrian pace, don't lose heart as the final 30 are quite the opposite indeed.
Although the movie really only focuses on 4 actors and John Hurt hardly does anything, it is very well acted once you get past that Ms. Hudson isn't being cute and quirky, or basically being Ms. Penny Lane. She does however suffer from being out-acted totally by Gena Rowlands, who plays Violet Devereaux, the wife of Ben. She is indeed creepy and superbly acted, with enough subtle and not-so subtle mannerisms to question her character and motivations which just make you realise how good some actors are when truly allowed to shine, not that Hudson isn't good, nor is this Rowlands finest moment - just an observation about performances.
So as I said initially, while this isn't particularly exceptional but it is actually entertaining, although it does require a tad more thought and attention than a lot of current Hollywood productions so that come the end, you won't be asking questions. I enjoyed this, but felt quite let down by the so-called amazing ending. Before you ask though “I don't BELIEVE!”