Genre: Haunted house horror
Director: Iain Softley (K-PAX, The Wings of the Dove, Hackers) Verdict: &&1/2
The Skeleton Key has much in common with horror movies of the last few years – mysterious noises in the attic, dark secrets from the past, a female protagonist (Caroline, played by Kate Hudson) and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Ring Two, Scream 3). With so many horror remakes coming along of late, it's clear the genre is lacking original ideas. Although it's basically a haunted house tale, The Skeleton Key finds a compelling hook by setting the story in a spooky old New Orleans plantation mansion and channeling the local belief in hoodoo – healing, curses, spells and the like. Caroline takes up residence in the imposing old house with Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) and her husband, Ben (John Hurt), who has suffered a stroke, leaving him paralyzed and mute. Caroline is told only that Ben had his stroke while in the attic, and, after hearing rattling noises, she's soon poking around up there. Caroline begins to believe Ben is trying to tell her something, and Hurt admirably does all he can to convey fright through silent straining. Caroline becomes determined to get Ben out of the house and becomes involved in something of a hoodoo chess match. The movie works best when tapping the fervent regional belief in hoodoo, its ties to the Old South and the idea that it works if you believe. That alone makes this movie worth at least a rental when the DVD arrives. But, despite an interesting twist at the end, the climactic scene lacks the nail-biting heft of what came before, leaving the movie's spell a few rabbit's feet short of big-screen magic.
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