Saturday, October 08, 2005

GSC and TGV circuits
Time: 103 mins

Rating: ** ½

THE good news about The Skeleton Key is that it does not have dumb teenagers venturing into haunted houses and getting themselves chopped to pieces.

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No, we don’t have expendable starlets like Paris Hilton getting into all sorts of gory situations like in The House of Wax.Instead, we have an atmospheric thriller about hoodoo (or voodoo) practice in the swamps of Louisiana in the US of A.We follow Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), a New Jersey hospice care-giver, as she takes up a job as live-in nurse to Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) at his dilapidated house in the bayou.

Ben, a Southern gentleman, has just suffered a stroke and his wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), needs someone to help her take care of him.

A previous nurse had fled the house but Violet’s lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), is confident that Caroline will meet the challenge, although Violet tends to be suspicious of anyone who does not have a Southern accent.“She wouldn’t understand the house,” Violet complains to Luke as soon as she claps eyes on the new nurse.What’s there to understand about the grand century-old house? This is the mystery that the movie gradually unravels for the most part of the footage.The Devereaux’s mansion has many rooms which are never used, and Caroline is given a skeleton key which will open all of them — except the one in the attic.

Of course, things start going bump in the night and Caroline discovers that the former servants of the house had practised hoodoo, a variation of voodoo that involves incantations and human sacrifice.

Let’s just say that as Caroline tries to get to the bottom of this black magic madness, we get lots of ‘boo moments’ and minor scares, culminating in a frantic bid to get Ben out of the house.

Director Iain Softley unfolds the plot rather slowly, feeding us with bits of information about hoodoo and the former tenants of the house.For this, he has a bunch of competent stars at his disposal.

Rowlands is awesome as the domineering wife who may have something to hide. That she manages to keep us guessing is a testimony of her talent and experience as an actress. Hurt’s Ben, whose stroke has left him unable to speak, communicates with just his eyes and he speaks volumes of his fear and dilemma.Hudson’s role as a caring and dedicated nurse has us rooting for her throughout while Sarsgaard is competent in an undemanding role.

The Skeleton Key would have unlocked a lot more scares and drama if it had more going for it than just the twist at the ending.


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