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The Skeleton Key

Hoodoo…not to be confused with Voodoo

With the exception of The Devil's Rejects, this summer has been fairly devoid of any truly terrifying horror films. Iain Softley attempts to fill this void with the release of The Skeleton Key. Softley manages to coax a few gasps out of this voodoo inspired psychological thriller and manages to engage an audience for most of the runtime of the film, but fails to elicit any truly terrifying moments.

Carolyn (Kate Hudson) is a nurse in training who stumbles onto an opportunity to provide care for a declining stroke victim, Ben (John Hurt). Ben and his wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) occupy a creepy mansion in the backwaters of the New Orleans bayou. Draped in Spanish moss, lichen, and a pervasive sense of foreboding, it is an unsettling place.

Naturally, things get spooky pretty quickly for Carolyn as she discovers a mysterious locked room in the attic. Ironically, it was in the attic where Ben allegedly suffered his "stroke". Carolyn's curiosity gets the better of her and she discovers this locked room is some sort of hoodoo (read: New Orleans-based folk magic) den replete with alligator teeth and various other animal parts.

What becomes challenging at this point of the film is believing that Carolyn would stick around to continue helping Ben. While some attempt is made to explain why Carolyn feels compelled to continue acting as caregiver for Ben, it becomes increasingly difficult to believe anyone would hang around given what unfolds. Kate Hudson's performance is okay, but nothing exceptional. This is not necessarily Hudson's fault as Carolyn wasn't written with much depth or substance.

Conversely, Gena Rowlands gives an excellent performance as Ben's wife, Violet. Violet is a bizarre mixture of the addled and the menacing. Rowland manages to pull it off brilliantly in a performance that is reminiscent of Kathy Bate's turn in Misery. John Hurt also adds a sharp performance as the tormented Ben. Truly, some of the most unsettling moments in the film involve Ben's desperate attempts to escape from whatever lies within the confines of the house.

Where The Skeleton Key fails to deliver is in the scares department. While Iain Softley does a wonderful job of setting the appropriately dark mood and tone of the film, it doesn't do more than make one feel vaguely uncomfortable. There are a few obligatory jolts that work, but it's not enough to keep a viewer on edge for the duration of the film.

The Skeleton Key is a solid film, but it doesn't have enough to enable it to graduate beyond an average psychological thriller. The addition of a "twist" (a narrative flourish borrowed from M. Night Shyamalan) at the end of the film will likely draw many to the theater for a viewing. Admittedly, the "twist" is refreshing and darkly comical, but it is too little, too late.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars