And "Original" might be stretching it. The Skeleton Key isn't based on a Suzuki novel, that's a fact jack, but it does rip off as many Japanese movies as it possibly can right on down to a giant lizard emerging out of the Gulf of Mexico to crush New Orleans under its giant rubber feet.
Okay, yeah, I'm kidding about the Godzilla part, but that and Kurosawa's Throne of Blood, are probably the only things out of bounds for the borrowed pen! Ehren Kruger turns into Freddy Kruger as a bloody swath through Asian Horror Cinema Ehren doth make! If only E.K. was the only one doing this, but apparently when old Arnold got elected Governator of California he passed a little-publicized law that no new Horror Films could be made, and each and every one had to be as derivative as End Of Days was.
The Skeleton Key takes place on an old plantation in Louisiana (and sensibly, they refrain from making fun of my home state like... every other movie set there viciously does). A young, blonde and beautiful home healthcare worker is hired there to care for an elderly patient who is nearly comatose and tormented by the ghosts of those murdered in a powerful rage. Soon this young, blonde, beautiful home healthcare worker finds herself in the midst of this curse and finds out that the ghosts are really after her too.
Sound like The Grudge? I thought it did too. Exchange Louisiana Plantation for Japanese flat and the similarities are stunning! And that's not the only thing Japanese that is borrowed here, but I won't get too far into that (for one thing that would take too much time, for another... The Grudge wasn't all that original either, in any version).
In this case the Healthcare girl is Kate Hudson's Caroline Ellis who is hired by Gena Rowlands' Violet Devereaux to care for her near comatose husband Ben (John Hurt). Caroline is haunted by the death of her father (no, not Snake Plissken), and is determined to make her caring for Ben count as penance for that "failure".
But the house has other plans for her, as she starts to realize that this mirror-less house holds far too many Loozianner secrets for this Jersey girl to handle. Luckily she has a Skeleton Key (hence the title) that allows her into any room in any part of the big plantation home. And that leads to the revelation that there's some kind o' hoodoo goin' on in dat dere Attic, Boudreaux! Oui, Oui, Cher, Caroline, she be havin' SkeleTONS of Fun dans la maison!
Luckily she's got the incredibly hot roommate Jill (Joy Bryant) and the young Louisiana Lawyer Luke (Peter Sarsgaard) on her side! Or does she? The film throws up more red herrings than that guy on The Muppet Show that juggles fish! Around the middle of the picture one forgets how contrived and derived the set-up is and we can all have a hell of a time getting interested in the Voodoo and old time blues of the Boot State. It also manages to become a fairly decent little Louisiana Horror flick with some true suspense-building and mythology, part Eve's Bayou and part St. John's Wort!
Sadly, this doesn't last long as director Iain Softley realizes he doesn't have a whole lot to work with after the borrowed opening that Ehren Kruger's claws chopped together. The whole final act feels like a slightly improved version of The Amityville Horror with an ending that is easier to see coming than Peter North! Yep, if it took you more than the first half hour of this film to figure out the end, then I envy you, because your suspension of disbelief is stronger than mine is. (But then, by now, I could be that snotty kid from Bedknobs and Broomsticks because my "age of not believing" never ended, Tex!)
More than the unquestionable predictability, The Skeleton Key is one of those flicks that insists that you think about it again after leaving the story behind. However, this doesn't serve the (quote/unquote) "surprise" ending terribly well! Even if you didn't figure out the ending by Act Two (The Sixth Sense, this is NOT), a hindsight look will reveal more plot holes than a script written on Swiss Cheese. That and the over reliance on the "BOOOOO" kind of horror that startles but never really scares.
But, credit where due, this can be a pretty scary little film in a few parts, and the acting is fair enough. John Hurt receives one of the easiest paychecks of his career here as he spends most of the movie silent and staring glassily into the sunset while being bathed naked in a tub by Kate Hudson. Still, when he shines, he shines, and even makes one wonder a time or two if an Alien is about to burst through his chest! Gena Rowlands and Peter Sarsgaard range between the appropriate corn-cheese-ball-camp and the heavy drama that their parts call for, and add an extra dimension or two to their vastly differing characters. Kate Hudson is pretty good here, even as she devolves into a Scream Queen for the occasional scene. She does manage to make her irrational character likeable. One more thing, if you need a reason to buy the DVD, there is a very brief scene in which Kate, clad only in an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie blue lace hot bikini Panty allows one beautiful bouncing breast to pop into view. If the Frame-By-Frame feature of the DVD remote was made for any other purpose than this, I don't know what it was. (Ask me about Lois Lane's similar nipple shot in the original The Amityville Horror).
So, in short, The Skeleton Key is not a bad movie, it's just passable enough to enjoy for the hour and forty five minutes it has your attention. However, it's about as derivative as Dark Water and far less deserving to be. The acting isn't bad (for this type of movie), and there is a surprising amount of respect for Louisiana without even a hint of overdone accents. On the other hand, the swamp scenes here aren't the only parts that reek of "pond scum" and it's more predictable than a sad ending in a Wagner Opera. So... it gets Three Stars out of Five. Man, now I'm freaked... when a couple approached me in Pasadena saying they wanted to "use my body", I thought they were just interested in a Threesome. Being straight and married I declined. But now I wonder if they were after a far more nefarious goal. Sigh. Well, if that doesn't get me, then some lover of fine art will for mentioning both Wagner and Kurosawa in a review for an Ehren Kruger flick. See you in the next Cajun-Spiced reel!
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