"The Skeleton Key" DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

10/31/2010 Posted by Admin

"The Skeleton Key"

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

By Christopher Smith

The Iain Softley film, "The Skeleton Key," is one hoodoo of a movie--literally. It's a movie about hoodoo, voodoo and cheap thrills set in a Louisiana backwater.

The film is a ripe Southern Gothic, just this side of moldy, with Softley playing the first half of the story straight before smoking some homegrown hoodoo himself to deliver a final half that embraces, shall we say, its share of absurdity.

The film finds its star, Kate Hudson, breaking free from the string of disappointing romantic comedies that have plagued her career since her excellent, Academy Award-nominated performance in 2001's "Almost Famous."

Here, she pulls a Naomi Watts and a Jennifer Connelly by hopping the tracks into horror, which turns out to be a shrewd move for a woman whose career has become such a horror. While the movie is far from the showpiece Hudson deserves, she nevertheless is able to reveal appealing new dimensions that the slight, meet-cute formula of her previous films haven't allowed her to show.

She's not alone in mixing things up.

Based on Ehren Kruger's script, "The Skeleton Key" also stars venerable actress Gena Rowlands. Like Bette Davis before her in "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and the movie "The Skeleton Key" most resembles, 1964's "Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte," Rowlands has apparently reached that zenith in her career when its perfectly sane to go a little nuts onscreen.

True, she doesn't go as far as Joan Crawford did in her final two films, the infamous camp keepers "Berserk!" and "Trog," but there is a scene with Rowlands that involves compound fractures, a foul, bourbon-soaked mouth and lots of low crawling that's one for the record books.

In the movie, Hudson is Caroline, a Big Easy hospice worker who agrees to take a job on the aforementioned backwater, in spite of urgings from her friend, Hallie (Fahnlohnee Harris), not to do it. "Girl, crazy things happen out there," Hallie says. "I don't know, sugar--you better think twice." Or something like that.

Anyhoodoo, it comes down to this: Caroline gets in her vintage VW Beetle and takes off for the job. On the rundown plantation, which looks peculiarly like the one in "Charlotte," she meets sketchy Violet (Rowlands), who boldly likes to smoke long, thin cigarillos with flare; her lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), who doesn't; and Violet's dying husband, Ben (John Hurt), who apparently had a massive stroke.

In this house of no mirrors, things get weird behind all those locked doors, the skeleton key to which Caroline was given by Violet. While she cares for Ben, curiosity leads her into every one of those rooms, particularly (and naturally) the attic, in which something appears to be trying like hell to get out.

Caroline tries like mad to get in, which leads to all sorts of problems, the likes of which won't be revealed here because it's at this point that the movie gets good--really good--in it's own cheap, awful way.

Look, "The Skeleton Key" isn't a great movie by any stretch, but when a film's actors obviously are having this much fun slumming--and that fun morphs into subversive entertainment for us--there isn't a better summertime remedy, Southern or otherwise.

Grade: B

View the trailer for "The Skeleton Key" here:

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