The Skeleton Key

Spooky stuff lurks behind the crumbling façade of a once-grand Louisiana plantation house in this hokey, slow-moving thriller. Troubled, rootless Caroline (Kate Hudson) wants to be a nurse, but she's marking time working at a New Orleans hospice while trying to save tuition money. Caring for the aged and dying helps assuage her guilt at having been so estranged...read more

Where to Watch

Available to Stream

Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
Rating:

Spooky stuff lurks behind the crumbling façade of a once-grand Louisiana plantation house in this hokey, slow-moving thriller. Troubled, rootless Caroline (Kate Hudson) wants to be a nurse, but she's marking time working at a New Orleans hospice while trying to save tuition money. Caring for the aged and dying helps assuage her guilt at having been so estranged from her late father that she didn't even know he was ill until he died, but Caroline hates the brusque, impersonal atmosphere of institutional care. So she jumps at the chance to care for a dying stroke victim, Ben Devereaux (John Hurt), in his home, particularly in light of the generous salary. That his home is a decrepit manse in the middle of a fetid swamp doesn't deter her. She's a little put off by the cold shoulder she gets from the patient's wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), but the family's genial young lawyer, Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), assures her that Violet is just devastated by the prospect of her soul mate's demise. But Caroline has barely unpacked before she starts to get a bad feeling about her job. There are no mirrors anywhere, though faded spots on the wallpaper indicate clearly where they once hung. Violet gives her a skeleton key she says will open every door in the house, but it doesn't work on the locked door in the attic — the same attic where Ben had his stroke — that Caroline discovers half-hidden behind some shelves. The house creaks, rattles and moans; Ben's symptoms don't add up and his mysterious liquid "remedies" — Violet is vague about the ingredients — make Caroline suspicious. Violet claims the house is haunted by the ghosts of Papa Justify and his wife, Cecile (Ronald McCall, Jeryl Prescott Sales), reputed hoodoo conjurers who were lynched in the '20s; levelheaded Caroline dismisses all that witchcraft stuff, but when she finally gets into that attic room, it's filled with gris-gris, grimoires, strings of bones, shrunken heads, recordings of incantations and jars of pickled who-knows-what. Could Violet have put the whammy on Ben? On the plus side, the story resolves itself in a surprisingly grim and wholly appropriate way. But getting there is a long, dreary slog through a swamp of creaky suspense tropes. And for a supposedly smart, resourceful young woman, Caroline doesn't have the sense God gave geese; somewhere past the one-hour mark, it's hard not to start rooting for the bad juju.

Cast & Details See all »

  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Spooky stuff lurks behind the crumbling façade of a once-grand Louisiana plantation house in this hokey, slow-moving thriller. Troubled, rootless Caroline (Kate Hudson) wants to be a nurse, but she's marking time working at a New Orleans hospice while tryi… (more)

Show More »