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Almost every film you watch requires some level of suspension of disbelief. Some genres (Sci-Fi, Horror, Musicals, etc.) require more than others (drama). I am willing to give any film the benefit of the doubt and fully "buy into" the world the filmmakers attempt to create. Because of this, I expect a lot from the filmmakers in return. If they expect me to take that leap of faith, I expect them to deliver believable characters, an interesting, involving story and to make me laugh, believe, get frightened, whatever the story would dictate. If they do that, I usually enjoy the film. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen enough. If they don't, the film becomes a mess. "The Skeleton Key", the new thriller starring Kate Hudson, is a film requiring a fair amount of suspension of disbelief. The key to unlocking its success is to make everything believable. Does it accomplish that?

Caroline (Kate Hudson), a hospice worker in New Orleans, becomes so disillusioned with her job that she answers an ad for a private in-home caregiver in a parish about an hour out of the city. Upon arrival, she meets Violet (Gena Rowlands), the wife of her new patient, Ben (John Hurt). Violet is reluctant to have strangers in her house, a large plantation home that has seen better days, but their lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard, "Kinsey") insists that she get help for Ben during his last days; he had a heart attack while working in the attic and is now paralyzed on both sides of his body, unable to speak or move. Caroline accepts the job and soon receives a skeleton key that will open every door in the house. Exploring the house, she soon makes her way up to the attic and begins to discover some strange things.

"The Skeleton Key", directed by Iain Softley ("K-PAX") and written by Ehren Kruger ("The Ring Two", "The Ring", "Arlington Road"), is that strange thing; a thriller with good performances, good writing, good directing and only the occasional cheap thrill.

All of the performances in the film are very good. Perhaps the biggest surprise is Kate Hudson who takes a 180* turn from the "comedies" she has been subjecting us to for the last few years. She does a really good job in this very dramatic role. As a 25 year old dealing with issues of her father's death, Hudson's Caroline becomes a caregiver. Disillusioned by the economics of her job in the city, she takes a job in the country, caring for one man. She soon realizes that perhaps there is more gong on than meets the eye. During the course of the film, she tries to figure things out. Unlike most thrillers or scary movies, Caroline seems to have a head on her shoulders. She doesn't believe in "Hoodoo", an offshoot of voodoo which features prominently in the film, or spirits or ghosts, so when she makes the inevitable trip to the "dark room", in this case, the attic, it happens during the middle of the day. It is still a bit frightening, but at least she has the common sense to not make this trip in the dead of night. As she learns things, she uses this new knowledge to help her. She also asks for help. In most thrillers, the female lead usually lacks all of these traits. This, and the gravitas or her back story, help to give Caroline a resonance, a weight that we don't often see.

Gena Rowlands, is, as always, good. Violet is the big question mark in the story. Is she involved in the sinister goings-on, or not? Generally, this type of character would have wild mood swings, one moment, she is evil incarnate, the next, sweet as pie. Thankfully, Rowlands plays it more subdued. What really helps the character is that she is presented as an old woman "set in her ways", "old-fashioned", "distraught over her husband's condition". Because of this, her character is more subtle and there are more shades of gray to all of her actions, which can be attributed to her "set-ways". Even when she is being nice to Caroline, she is a bit abrupt and when she is abrupt, we get a sense there is a shade of kindness. Rowland's performance aids the well-written character keeping us guessing what and if there is something lying underneath.

John Hurt's performance is the trickiest because he uses almost no words throughout. The victim of a stroke, paralyzed on both sides, Ben can't move a muscle. But his eyes move, and they dart back and forth, or convey the anguish or terror he feels. At one point, Caroline is bathing him and gets soap in her eye, using a compact to make sure it is gone, she remembers Violet's admonition to keep mirrors out of the house "because they show the spirits walking throughout". Caroline opens the compact and places it in front of Ben's face. When she does this, Ben begins thrashing about. Finally, able to soothe him, Caroline apologizes. It really is amazing to experience all of these emotions through an actor who basically uses only his eyes throughout the performance.

The film is very well-written and well-directed. Throughout, writer Kruger and director Softley give us clues, and even a few red herrings, but some of these are so well-hidden that we aren't able to piece everything together until the very end, when the secrets are revealed to Hudson's Caroline. At this point, your mind will click back to all of the clues and you will, hopefully, realize how clever everything is. The ending has a neat little twist, which I didn't see coming, but now that I know what it is, it all makes sense. How refreshing for a film to make sense, to connect the dots through the many layers of the story.

Director Softley seems tailor made for this film. His last film "K-PAX" was a mess, but in "Key", he immerses us immediately in Caroline's world, starting the film without any credits of any kind. As we learn about Caroline's back-story, her character becomes more believable and real to us. After she arrives at the plantation, and is given the skeleton key, there are many shots of the interior of locks, as the key opens another door, and Caroline explores the house. This is an interesting metaphor for her learning secrets. The film is also remarkably free of the dumb thriller and horror film clichés so rife in other examples. As mentioned, Caroline asks for help, looks around in the middle of the day, and learns. There are also few, if any cheap thrills generated by "stray black cats". There is one scene in which Caroline wakes up in the middle of the night and immediately jumps out of bed wearing only panties and a t-shirt to investigate a sound. If it were me, I would've thrown on a pair of sleep bottoms before running around in a large, dark plantation house. But these types of typical horror/ thriller movie clichés are few and far between here.

"The Skeleton Key" is a surprisingly well-written, acted and directed thriller complete with a clever twist which is well connected to the rest of the story.
55 comments132 of 146 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 20, 2006
The Skeleton Key starring Kate Hudson is an interesting horror flick. I enjoyed this film very much, Hudson plays Caroline, she takes care of ill elders. She arrives at a house in New Orleans and strange things begin to happen to the man she is taking care of. A fantastic and scary performance by Gena Rowlands, who knew she could convel such an evil old lady so well. Watch out for the twist ending, didn't see that one coming. Hudson is great as always, she should do more of these types of films. I highly recommend The Skeleton Key!
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on August 24, 2005
Iain Softley's "The Skeleton Key" is a deliciously creepy entertainment for a lazy afternoon or evening. Softley builds the story slowly, marinating us in the spooky atmosphere of a dilapidated Louisiana bayou mansion, until we're just as hypnotized as the hapless heroine. That heroine, played by Kate Hudson, comes to the house to help a tart-tongued old woman (Gena Rowlands) take care of her stroke-immobilized husband (John Hurt). From there, she gets far more embroiled than she'd like in the hoodoo-laced history of the house and its inhabitants. Working from a screenplay by Ehren Krueger ("The Ring"), Softley places the pieces of the story in jigsaw-puzzle fashion; the placement of the last piece knocks you for a loop with a surprise ending you'll be thinking about for days. Hudson--who has much of her mother's charm, plus a certain pizzazz all her own--gives a totally satisfying performance as the heroine; Hurt (in a nearly wordless performance) and Rowlands also are excellent, as is Peter Sarsgaard as the family lawyer. As with all good thrillers, "The Skeleton Key" messes with our minds, rather than our gag reflexes. If you're a fan of "The Twilight Zone" (the TV series, that is, not the movie), chances are you'll love this.
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on August 19, 2005
...on how good this movie was. I mean, initially when I saw the trailer and I wasn't impressed. It looked just like another haunted house movie with cheap special effects. But my friends dragged me into it, so I went and saw it. After watching it, I was actually surprised as to how much I liked it.

The story is about Caroline (played by Kate Hudson), a nursing student who is tired of her old job. She takes a job in Louisiana to take care of a stroke victim (played by John Hurt), and his aging wife (played by Gena Rowlands). She moves into the house with them, and that starts experiencing strange things, like the paralyzed patient trying to communicate with her, mirrors missing on the walls, and a secret door in the attic which keeps thumping constantly. She feels like there is something bizarre going on and gets convinced that Ben, the patient, was paralyzed by some force, and that she can find a way for him to become normal again. What she doesn't know that there is a deeper power working at hand, which she must figure out before she is the next victim.

The beginning is a little slow for a while, since nothing really goes on for the first fifteen minutes. But once Caroline sees the door in the attic, the movie picks up, and towards the end, it is a constant roller-coaster ride. Furthermore, most of the movies we see these days are not scary at all, and make us jump only because of the insane sound effects. But this movie actually created a creepy atmosphere because of the characters and the story, rather than relying on the gore and sound effects, which is why I enjoyed watching it. Gena Rowlands did a fantastic job in her acting. Come on, she is 75 years old, and she has to be commended for playing her role so well for her age. Kate Hudson, John Hurt and Peter Sarsgaard played their parts adequately. Director Iain Softley did a good job in creating this eerie movie and keeping the audience in suspense till the end.

So, if you liked watching movies such as `The Others', then you will enjoy `Skeleton Key'.
11 comment11 of 11 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on April 17, 2006
The 2005 thriller "The Skeleton Key" starred Kate Hudson as Caroline. Caroline, a caregiver/nurse, likes to help people. After losing one of her patients, Caroline decides it's time for a change and accepts a job (over $1,000 a week with free room and board) caring for Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), an elderly man who has been rendered an invalid, deep in the Bayou of Louisiana. However, the dream job slowly turns into a nightmare when the mysteries of the house begin to reveal themselves.

Ben, who hasn't been able to speak or walk since suffering a debilitating stroke in the house's attic, seems to be trying to communicate or warn Caroline about something. Things get even stranger when Ben is found during a thunderstorm crawling along the roof of the porch. Although reassured by Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), the Devereaux's lawyer, Caroline finds herself under the watchful eye of Violet (Gena Rowlands), Ben's wife, who, other than demanding that he be given his "remedies" throughout the day, insists that there should be no mirrors in the house.

In the meantime, Violet has given Caroline a "skeleton key" that is supposed to unlock all the doors inside the house. When Caroline finds a mysterious door in the attic that won't open, her curiosity gets the better of her and she tries to find out what's on the other side of the door. Once in, she quickly realizes that the odd room holds a number of items related to Hoodoo, a form of old magic completely different from voodoo.

Caroline, who is determined to help Ben, becomes increasingly intrigued by this despite her claims that she doesn't believe in it. However, she quickly learns of some of the practices of Hoodoo and what happened to two of the house's servants, Justify (Ronald McCall) and Cecile (Jeryl Prescott Sales), when caught using the magic. But will Caroline be able to save Ben and herself or is it already too late?

One of the best things about "The Skeleton Key" is that it keeps your attention throughout the entire movie. Whether it's Violet coming up to the attic while Caroline is sneaking around in there or it's seeing a mirror somewhere in the house, you can't help but be glued to your seat to see what will happen next.

While Kate Hudson and Peter Sarsgaard are good, Gena Rowlands and John Hurt bring a little extra to the film. Rowlands plays the character of Violet completely opposite of the aging Allie in The Notebook. At first you believe Violet is an aging woman set in her ways but then you slowly start to wonder if there is a more sinister side to her. John Hurt (known for his portrayal of Mr. Ollivander in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" and as Kane in "Alien") barely utters a word throughout the entire film. However, through facial expressions and other actions, you understand that this person is in some sort of torment. There is a particular scene where Carolyn holds a mirror to his face and we get the feeling that, without seeing or hearing anything ourselves, Ben is seeing something horrible.

Although the plot is decent, there are a few things, especially the last twenty to thirty minutes that can be confusing. I found myself thinking about a few scenes, particularly the Justify/Cecile flashback and even the ending, a few days after seeing the movie, questioned a few things and wondered if I had followed the story right.

"The Skeleton Key" is a thriller without a lot of special effects or gore. It will definitely convince you that it's better NOT to believe in some things!
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on October 27, 2006
The skeleton key is a well scripted spiritual supernatural thriller, with a twist at the end that is genuinely surprising. Similar to the Gift and the Others, it is not scary, but does its best to keep the audience on the edge of their seats.

Kate Hudson plays Caroline, a live in nurse who is hired by an elderley southern woman in the bayous of Louisiana to care for her dying husband Ben, who has just had a stroke and only has weeks to live. Caroline receives a skeleton key, which opens every door in the house, except for a small room in the attic where Ben had his stroke. Eventually forcing her way into the room, Caroline discovers a world of hoodoo, which at first she brushes off as superstition, but the longer she stays in the house, the more she begins to believe in the magic, and fears Ben is in trouble, believing his illness is all in his head and his wife Violet is trying to force a spell upon him.

For the first hour of the film, director Iain Softley manages to scare his audience, but as the twists are slowly revealed, the film becomes less frightening and slightly more predictable. Gena Rowlands and John Hurt work well within the script without showing too much of their true talents, while Kate Hudson really looks like she enjoyed the role of Caroline. Peter Sarsgaard is a pleasure to watch, he is a very fine actor who's character comes across the way audiences would expect, leaving you vulnerable for the twist at the end.

Special features include a few short featurette's, deleted scenes and a directors commentary. A trailer, sadly is lacking but includes a couple of bonus trailers.

The settings in this film are brilliant, the southern gothic feeling surrounding the movie and the details of the house all combine to create a spooky, tense movie that is very good overall.
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on August 13, 2005
"The Skeleton Key" is a good thriller with an expert cast headed by Kate Hudson (Caroline), Gena Rowlands (Violet) and a mute John Hurt (Ben).

Director Iain Softley (the stunning "Wings of a Dove") has a great eye for the grotesque and the beauty that lies therein and his mise en scene is cluttered with over-hanging Ivy, cataract-blinded country folk, crumbling mansions with scary attics, sweat-inducing humidity and back-woods depravity vs. upper crust, tuxedoed depravity in the bayou country just outside of New Orleans.

There are also great big doses of Hoodoo thrown in to spice-up this boiling Gumbo of a movie but for once the attitude of the film, thanks to Softley and the amazing cast, is one of tolerance and respect: "The Skeleton Key" has the good sense to believe in it's own themes and characters and as a consequence it scares the hell out of us because, despite our better judgment... we start to buy into it also.
0Comment36 of 48 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
on June 18, 2006
Highly unpredictable and fluid in it's approach. It's the age-old tale with a twist. Girl has nursing home job, girl quits nursing home job, girl applies for nursing job all the way out in new orleans.

But, the big kicker is that the house in which she has to do the "caring" is at an old run down mansion where ghosts may or may not be haunting the grounds. What makes this movie natural is it's approach. You'd think that we would grow tired of the main character, but, in reality, the main character Caroline(Kate hudson) has the same views as the audience and does not believe in mystical voo-doo.

What I liked about this film is the fact that you never knew what was going to happen next. The plot and dialogue, I have to say, was very chess-like. Be on the lookout for characters in this one who try to Outsmart each other with the information that they have and the information that they gain.

Oh, but my true favorite is the ending of this movie. Totally unexpected and totally orginal.

This is a movie you must see. It will definetly give you the willies!
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on May 21, 2006
I was so shocked how good this movie was. Reveiwers pinned it as bad but all i could think of was that they must be hudson haters because i dont see how this movie was bad. I loved it. It was my kind of horror...its SO FAST PACED. If you love horror movies like the Grudge that movie slow and art house style, than dont see this because this movie moves like lightning. Its VERY intense and more of a thriller at times than a horror movie. The plot of this movie was so good. On reveiwer said this plot was like a saterday morning cartoon, but when i was little i watched cartoons alot and ive never seen a cartoon with a plot like this. The plot is twisting and all it understood. Also it is in a form that you discover things one by one, and you keep discovering things up to the credits. The climax of this movie is so good and intense that you might even be able to say it is over the top. I have to say that this might be my favorite horror movie in ages. I loved the ring and this is up there with that movie. Great Job!!!
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on April 16, 2006
Kate Hudson gives a great performance. I kinda never paid attention to her work until this movie came along. This movie is good. I never expected it to be a spooky type of movie and it was'nt. It was just an old style thriller with great atmosphere and great acting. Gena Rowlands is excellent. The story line is original and very interesting. I hope a sequel will follow......It's time for my remedies!!!!!
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