THE SKELETON KEY (2005) Reviews and overview

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The Skeleton Key is a 2005 American/German horror film co-produced and directed by Iain Softley from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger (The Ring). It stars Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, and Peter Sarsgaard.

Caroline Ellis, a hospice aide, is hired as the caretaker of an isolated plantation house in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The elderly lady of the house, Violet Devereaux, needs help looking after her husband Benjamin, who is mostly paralysed from an apparent stroke.

After Ben attempts to escape his room during a storm, Caroline uses a skeleton key given to her by Violet to investigate the house attic, where Violet says Ben suffered his stroke.

She discovers a secret room filled with ritual paraphernalia. Caroline confronts Violet, who reveals that the room used to belong to two African American servants who were Hoodoo practitioners, and were lynched after conducting a ritual with the owner’s two children…

Reviews [may contain spoilers]:

“If the action gets a little out of hand, The Skeleton Key admittedly features a nifty final twist, one that most viewers surely won’t see coming. Even more gratifying, when they find themselves mentally going over Caroline’s steps in order to find portents of what finally transpires, they will be re-entering a world worth coming back to.” Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

“It’s too bad the movie goes over the top and falls apart in the last third. With its claustrophobic atmosphere, The Skeleton Key has some things in common with a much better film, Alejandro Amenábar’s creepy The Others.” USA Today

The Skeleton Key enjoys neither a truly frightening atmosphere nor a truly edgy or dangerous script. The film embraces the sort of mild, toned-down PG-13 horror routine that’s far too commonplace anymore, sacrificing legitimate terror and tension in favor of watered down genre antics suitable for the wider audience.” Martin Liebman,

“Director Softley again shows his gifts for creating atmospheric milieus that emphasize the visual over the literal. His Louisiana feels humid and ancient. Yet the movie, overall, lacks tension and suspense…”  Marjorie Baumgarten, The Austin Chronicle

“Despite its massive plot holes Skeleton Key is a supernatural film that’s very reliant more on factory devices and less on special effects, with creaks, bumps, and shadows that make this a genuinely creepy offering in a world filled with contrived bland dramas posing as thrillers.” Felix Vasquez Jr., Cinema Crazed

“If you’re a jaded horror movie fan like I am, then The Skeleton Key will offer no surprises whatsoever. But if you’re the kind of person that thought The Ring or The Grudge were scary, then the flick will straight up creep you the f*ck out.” Mitch Lovell, The Video Vacuum

Choice dialogue:

Violet Devereaux: “My child, I believe you broke my legs.”

Cast and characters:

  • Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis
  • John Hurt as Benjamin Devereaux
  • Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux
  • Peter Sarsgaard as Luke Marshall
  • Joy Bryant as Jill Dupay
  • Ronald McCall as Papa Justify
  • Jeryl Prescott as Mama Cecile

Filming locations:

  • Bayou Gauche, Laurel Valley, New Orleans, and the Felicity Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana
  • Universal Studios, Los Angeles, California

Box office:

The PG-13 film had a reported budget of $43 million and took $91,974,818 worldwide.

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