The F*cking Black Sheep: The Skeleton Key (2005)

THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!

The Skeleton Key (2005)
Directed by Iain Softley

“It’s an effective movie because it perfectly uses the setting, something many haunted house movies skip on.”

New Orleans is a hell of a place. Out of all the cities in the States, it’s maybe the darkest or most haunted…voodoo, zombies, curses, witches, bayous, spells, and gumbo. Ok, so gumbo really doesn’t fit that list. In fact, it’s quite tasty. Now, with the Super Bowl happening in New Orleans this year (actually, does anyone outside the States give a damn about the game?) it only seems fit to check out movie from the region. Today, gaggles of films are made down South, but most of those pretend to be elsewhere. And those that do usually don’t incorporate the darker elements that the city has to offer. One that does? The Skeleton Key.

For the unfamiliar, The Skeleton Key revolves around hospice nurse Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who decides she needs out the nursing home. She takes a gig on an old plantation where she cares for an invalid husband Ben (John Hurt), and she has to put up with his bitchy wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). Things, of course, are a bit off with small quirks like no mirrors in the house, Ben not being as helpless as he looks, and, you know, voodoo being all over the place. Caroline gets suspicious when she’s given a skeleton key, which opens all doors but one in the attic, which conveniently holds all sorts of odd shit like shrunken heads, voodoo curse books, and all the mirrors in the place! Oh, and Peter Sarsgaard plays the family lawyer. Or does he…

The Skeleton Key isn’t the most frightening film ever made, but then again, thing is more mystery than haunted house, but it does combine both elements. There’s lot of shrieking musical cues, dramatic rainstorms, and squeaky floorboards and doors. The mystery comes from as we follow Caroline getting all suspicious at every turn.

At the same time, it’s an effective movie because it perfectly uses the setting, something many haunted house movies skip on. Oh sure, the houses are always creepy, but what about the area? Just because they place the thing around some woods doesn’t mean it adds depth. New Orleans is balls deep in story and lore, and The Skeleton Key embraces it and makes you think everyone loves them some voodoo, which is perhaps the scariest damn thing ever. Seriously, what’s more frightening than a dark magic that an entire region is rooted in? Screw that. Every time something odd happens, there’s another story to tell.

Now, the stupid part about The Skeleton Key comes from that Caroline keeps explaining what voodoo is to everyone she meets so that anyone too dumb not to understand it will. The film probably would have been more effective if it had dived deeper into the roots of the dark magic stuff, but hey, for a mainstream Hollywood release, at least it attempted to do something different.

Of course, the main draw here is Hudson, who was entering the prime of her career on 2005. She’s good too as the tough-minded nurse who never takes no for an answer. Plus, she has lots and lots of daddy issues, and since she doesn’t play a stripper (they always have daddy problems), she’s always gets attached to her patients as she couldn’t save her own father. The best part of her performance? She’s always running around braless in tight shirts and her panties. That ain’t a bad thing.

The Skeleton Key isn’t a thrill-a-second kinda movie. In fact, the thing takes its time to get moving. But once it does its effectively entertaining as Caroline does battle with an old voodoo bitch. The gore is a bit too light for my horror tastes, but it does boast one of the nastiest set of broken legs that I can remember, and a nicely, unhappy, unHollywood ending. And what’s not to dig about that?





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