10 Years: “The Skeleton Key”

Sometimes the only thing a film needs to do is maintain a certain tone and level of creepiness to be still worth it. If you’ve got that, it might be worth repeated viewings. If you don’t have this, and decent performances, than the film, especially if it’s one of those with a cleverly crafted surprise ending, isn’t really worth anything. It’s just a memory of what was and shall never be again, no matter how hard filmmakers try in the years that follow.

The Universal Pictures film “The Skeleton Key”, may not be able to surprise me at the end of the film, but it’s certainly still creepy enough.

This psychological thriller stars Kate Hudson (upcoming “Rock the Kasbah”, “Good People”), Gena Rowlands (“Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks”, “Parts Per Billion”), Peter Sarsgaard (upcoming “Black Mass”, “The Slap (US series)”), John Hurt (“Hercules (2014)”, “Snowpiercer”), and Joy Bryant (“Parenthood (2010 TV series)”, “About Last Night (2014)”).

The film was directed by Iain Softley (“The Outcast”, “Trap for Cinderella”) and written by Ehren Kruger (“Transformers: Age of Extinction”, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”).

The film originally opened in theaters on Aug. 12, 2005.

I actually never thought I’d see this film again, even though I own it and could easily have chosen to pull it from its place, open the box, pop out the DVD and pop it into the player. It’s become, like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Others”, most notably, one that’s just too memorable in its ending, that watching it has kind of lost its appeal. I can’t even pretend to not know what happens or why. The funny thing about this case, I don’t think I’ve seen this film in over five years; not even on television, if it ever was shown. No, I just have a really good memory for the films that really impressed me the first time around. Back then, of course, it was easier to lure me into the story and convince me it was worth my full attention. I wish I could say that about the majority of films I see today.

Anyway. I finally got around to it again, and I must say it was all that I remember it being, even the ending (duh).

It’s mainly about the story. A silly thing to believe and write down, but it’s really true here. This film doesn’t deal with zombies, ghosts (like you’d be thinking), killers or some other type of element in a typical thriller or horror film. This film is supernatural in tone, in the purest sense of the word I feel. Another thing we don’t see often in films.

This film relies on a culture that not too many people get to see really represented. Some, and it wouldn’t be surprising, might not even know about it. The fact that the film involves hoodoo and voodoo, to make the supernatural, mystical, and creepy elements a central part of this story, is what fascinates me the most and keeps me interested the whole time. The filmmakers definitely got the creepy factor down, even if the film also resorted early on to jump scares. I was actually surprised there were jump scares, as some how I’d convinced myself that the film hadn’t relied on them. Oops.

Along with the culture of hoodoo and voodoo, there was, of course, Louisiana itself. That state is one vibrant one, from what I’ve hear over and over, and it really shows in this film. The house location was also the perfect amount of awe inspiring beauty and creepy atmosphere. This too was filmed on location. I can’t recall what the houses name is, but it’s a plantation that was only slightly edited at the end because of an ariel shot. The film’s location is mentioned as a specific place, yet they shot elsewhere, and had to make a slight change that otherwise would’ve been noted by some people. Either way, the house and its surrounding land worked in the film’s favor.

To bring this atmosphere and culture to life, are of course the actors, and the camerawork, which was utilized in the best ways to capture the mood and sort of misguide the audience as to what was really happening. None of this is particularly bad, but its certainly not all that fresh. The actors were all fine and allowed the actions of the characters (set up by an okay script, certainly more than other films Kruger’s written), to be what drove my interest and allowed for me, even a little this time, the right amount of distractedness so I wouldn’t notice what was about to come. If these elements had been missing, I’m sure I would’ve noticed the now obvious ending much sooner, and thus, ended up disliking the film a lot. Another reason the ending works so well for me.

And while I did just mention the actors for one brief moment, let me add this bit too. They never seemed like they didn’t belong. A lot of character development may not have happened, or been central, but you understood Hudson’s motivations for why she did this hospice work. You also really believed Rowlands as this older southern woman, who may really be keeping a bunch of secrets from the young woman that’s there to care for an old man suffering from effects of a stroke.

While I did find myself enjoying this film, more than I thought I could, the experience wasn’t without its weird notations of what it was like.

For instance, while I’m constantly aware that I’ve seen this (hard not to be), it was somewhat and somehow interesting to see how everything’s set out in quite an obvious way. I guess it’s just one of those films where you have to see again and judge for yourself how you missed some kind of clue, especially one that would’ve told you so much about the film’s end. However, if you’re seeing this for the first time, it of course just comes off as natural, and the dialogue is nothing more than dialogue. Even though I remember what happened, I see the original bones of what made this a near perfect movie, to me that is. Now, like so many others, its just an entertaining film.

For me, and one can debate this all day long, the only thing (other than jump scares) that seriously irritated me was the lack of a cell phone. We can also debate that statement too. Even in 2005, I can’t believe she wouldn’t have a cellphone. Back then, they (probably), were considerably cheaper than they are today. Of course, back then, people actually used them to mainly call people. It’s just something that stood out and made me wonder, at the very least, how much a basic flip phone, with a tiny antennae too, although not one that needed to be pulled out like those from the ‘80s, would cost. I can’t imagine as much as phones do now.

At the end of the day, certainly the end of the film, it was worth it. Even 10 years later. I was afraid, for the obvious reason, that I’d find it a slight bore, rolling my eyes at all the (now) obvious giveaway moments. I was definitely surprised there. I’m also, mildly, optimistic when it comes to viewing “The Others” at some point in the future. Never thought I’d believe that idea, which is mainly why I have yet to watch that film again.In due time, it seems. Due time.

The creepy trailer:


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