Thursday, August 18, 2005

REVIEW: The Skeleton Key

You've already seen this movie a dozen times.

I've already seen this movie a few hundred times.

So here we go: An outsider enters into a small, insular culture. Said outsider is perplexed by local "oddness," soon suspects dark secrets and eventually suspects supernatural evil as evidenced by bumps in the night and/or elaborate nightmare sequences. Said supernatural evil is explained by a sympathetic local, with emphasis on some obscure quirk of the occult plugged into this formula by a screenwriter shortly after they stumbled upon it. Said outsider does what they were told not to do, goes where they were told not to go, "the truth is revealed" and the shit hits the fan in the 3rd act. Everything wraps up with a "surprise" twist ending.

Familiar? Yeah, thought so. We've been through this many times, the only general variants to the formula being the cast, the setting and the specific "quirk of the occult" plugged into it. In this case, a dilapitated manor on the Louisiana Bayou is the "new" setting, Kate Hudson is the "new" outsider (a hospice nurse) and our fun new occult plaything is "Hoodoo" (the "practical magic" arm of Voodoo.) Hudson is supposed to care for an elderly invalid (John Hurt) who's wife (Gena Rowlands) is acting suspicious and who's house features a "secret" room full of Hoodoo paraphenalia and the requisite bloodied history. Dollars to donuts you'll figure out who the bad guys are pretty soon, but might be semi-surprised by the full "whats really going on here" coda.

The film isn't bad so much as it is staunchly formulaic and depressingly average: It holds so closely to the Old Dark House tropes that it's almost never scary or even visually interesting, save for some nifty editing in a flashback scene and an appropriately jarring "the hell!?" image to cap a dream sequence. The cast and atmosphere, though, are working HARD to convince you otherwise, and eventually it manages to be creepy enough to keep you wary of dark halls and locked doors for a few hours after it ends.

Beyond that, it's strictly forgettable fare: Just another quick visit by the studios to the PG-13 "horror" movie money tree. I'd say give it a pass.