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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Be Careful What You Believe
by Betty Jo Tucker

Creepy, atmospheric and lushly filmed in Louisiana Bayou country, The Skeleton Key takes us into the changing world of a young woman who starts a new job not believing in ghosts or black magic. Fortunately for fans of the horror/thriller genre, she soon faces a series of frightening events that challenge her deepest convictions.

Caroline (Kate Hudson) signs on as a live-in caregiver for Ben, an elderly stroke victim (John Hurt). When his wife Violet (Gena Rowlands) gives her a skeleton key that’s supposed to open all the rooms in the rickety old plantation-like mansion, Caroline can’t understand why it won’t open one in the back of the attic. She’s also curious about the lack of mirrors in the house. Naturally, an intelligent, curious woman like Caroline can’t resist trying to find out what’s inside the mystery room and why so many strange things are happening around her.

Because of Hudson’s (Raising Helen) appealing performance at the beginning of the film, we empathize with Caroline right away. She makes us acutely aware of the guilt her character feels over neglecting her own father before his death as well as her dismay about the nonchalant way elderly patients’ deaths are handled at the hospice where she works. Believe me, that empathy is very important here, for we must continue to care about Caroline as she does some rather bold and stupid things after going to work for Violet and Ben. Convinced that Ben, who can only communicate with his eyes, is in danger from Violet and hoodoo magic -- which supposedly only works if you believe in it -- she engages in extremely risky behavior to save him. And she turns to Violet’s handsome lawyer (Peter Sarsgaard) for help. 

As good as Hudson is in The Skeleton Key, Rowlands (Taking Lives) manages to run away with this movie. She gives Violet such breadth and depth and mystery that it’s hard to see anyone or anything else when she’s on screen. Hurt (Hellboy) tries to overcome the disadvantage of playing a character who can’t speak by using his eyes and terrified facial expressions, but I’m so used to hearing his distinctive voice in other movies that I thought too much about how I missed it -- and that spoiled his scenes for me. The biggest surprise here involves Sarsgaard (Shattered Glass). I know he’s a popular young actor, but this is the first time I’ve been impressed with his work. His character oozes old Southern charm and won me over right away with his courteous, helpful attitude.        

The Skeleton Key is an eerie supernatural thriller complete with ghosts, black magic, a haunted house and things that go bump in the night. But it also boasts a highly complicated plot unusual for movies of this nature. “Now tell me in as few words as possible what this was all about,” demanded my husband as the end credits rolled to the deep, melodious tones of Elvis Presley singing “If I Can Dream.”

“It’s like asking someone to explain jazz,” I answered. “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

Seriously, folks, this is one movie you absolutely must pay close attention to in order to enjoy its surprising and satisfying payoff.

(Released by Universal and rated “R” for violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity and thematic elements.) 

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