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< Entertainment >

New Movie Reviews

"The Skeleton Key"

by Michael Handorf
handorf@comcast.net

Kate Hudson. Gena Rowlands. Pseudo-Thriller.

Synopsis: A young hospice worker takes a position caring for a dying man in an expansive Louisiana mansion that might be haunted.

Review: Not good. Wait for Netflix.

Seriously. This movie has not one, but two, inaccurate marketing campaigns working in its favor. The first is the responsibility of the makers of the film - numerous television spots touting this film as a "return to the classic psychological thriller" and "the best thriller since The Sixth Sense ." Neither of those characterizations is correct. The second marketing campaign has been unwittingly unleashed by the film critics of America who, despite giving the film average or slightly lower than average marks, keep praising the film’s twist ending.

I am going to counter both campaigns with the following sentence - this film is far from a psychological thriller and there is no twist ending.

I’m going to repeat that last clause - there is no twist ending. If a viewer doesn’t see the ending that is to come somewhere around the middle of the film, he or she just hasn’t developed enough critical thinking skills. Or perhaps the viewer left the theatre for 10-15 minutes at least twice during the film’s first hour and 15 minutes.

Seriously. If the ‘twist’ ending hasn’t come completely into focus somewhere around the 1-hour mark, it should be crystal clear about 25 minutes before the end of film. Interestingly enough, that’s about the same time the film becomes engaging.

Caroline (Hudson) is a young hospice worker in New Orleans with issues surrounding her own father’s sudden death and the unresolved issues between them. After another beloved patient dies in an unsympathetic hospital, she decides to take on something more meaningful.

She responds to an ad for a hospice worker at a mansion in the swamps outside New Orleans. She is met by Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), the family’s estate attorney. He explains that Ben (John Hurt) has had a stroke and is not expected to last the month.

Ben’s wife is Violet (Rowlands), who is skeptical of the young woman’s abilities. She reluctantly agrees to hire Caroline, and gives her a skeleton key to all of the doors in the mansion.

Oh yeah, except one. The door to the barricaded room in the attic.

And our young heroine is hell-bent on getting into that room, so eventually she does. She finds a lot of strange bottles with ‘things’ floating in them, masks, dusty old phonograph records, and what purports to be a spell book of some kind.

Voodoo, one might ask? No. As we learn from this movie, voodoo is a religion. This is hoodoo - a byproduct of voodoo and the black arts, apparently created in Louisiana.

Anyway, hoodoo doesn’t work on someone unless they believe in hoodoo. Caroline is from New Jersey, so she’s pretty much a non-believer, but events that occur in the house cause her to have a change of heart.

Many of those events surround Ben trying to communicate with Caroline. He is trying to ask for help, but the stroke has left him an invalid. So Caroline begins to suspect that Violet has done something to harm Ben.

Caroline learns more and more but never quite puts all the pieces in the right places (which is why I suspect that everyone is calling this a twist ending) until it’s almost too late.

Kate Hudson keeps getting billed as an A-list actress because of one performance in one film. Her performance here should help bring that reputation more in alignment with reality.

Gena Rowlands is good, but John Hurt is excellent. Even without speaking, he is captivating as the stroke victim.

What separates this film from what its producers have marketed so well is really just one thing. They needed to hire someone to sit through the storyboarding sessions and the screenplay review. This individual’s only responsibility would have been to utter the following sentence three or four times: "Guys, now would be a good time for something scary to happen."

That obviously never took place.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

 

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