We’ve seen the bones of this ‘Skeleton’ before
A welcomed trend continues with the PG-13 rated “The Skeleton Key” which relies on its creepy atmosphere more than shock value or gore. It features good actors, a believably creepy and murky Louisiana backdrop, a likable and reasonably intelligent protagonist, and a modestly unpredictable ending. So why the lackluster two star rating?
First and foremost, “The Skeleton Key” is rarely scary. The best that can be said about it is that it’s a fairly compelling mystery. But it’s doubtful this was its original intention. After all, the film uses every contrivance to muster terror that has ever been used before in a spooky film. Criticize M. Night Shyamalan (“The Sixth Sense,” “Signs,” “The Village”) all you want, but he stopped using the “water running under a door” trick to scare his audience when he was in junior high shooting 8 millimeter movies.
As Caroline, Kate Hudson is a hospice worker who answers an ad to care for the stroke-silenced invalid husband (John Hurt) of drawling matron Eva (Gena Rowlands). Of course there is a haunted antebellum plantation where the story takes place. Naturally, the creaky mansion has a mysterious attic that Caroline must explore. Much of the action occurs — of course — during a lightning storm.
There’s a rather interesting “hoodoo” undercurrent running throughout that provokes interest long enough, but we never really care what Caroline hopes to find and no one’s life ever seems to be in peril.
Give credit to Hudson, Rowlands, Hurt and Peter Sarsgaard as the bayou lawyer for bringing credibility to their characters. We’ve seem them all in scarier movies, including Hudson, who starred in the so bad its creepy “Alex and Emma.” (A scare’s a scare, even when it’s unintentional.)
Looking on the bright side, “The Skeleton Key” could provide some diversionary fun as a party game. Divide into several teams. Show a random five-minute section of the film while each team feverishly writes down every scary movie clich? that’s used. There are plenty of them, and you can’t miss them. Ghostly flashbacks, chilling winds, warnings from eerie strangers, cryptic messages written in blood, candles galore, you name it.
As 2001’s “The Others” proved, movies can be mysterious and scary both — if they contain inventive and spellbinding storytelling. Another comparison: The quietly entertaining “Secret Window” from last year, another PG-13 film in a similar vein. But if you remove Johnny Depp’s kooky presence and John Turturro’s palpable menace, the film stops cold.
“The Skeleton Key” unlocks a mystery, but the journey is fraught with the familiar.
Rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and partial nudity.