|Well cast and expertly paced, The Skeleton Key is a surprising entry into the August doldrums of the summer blockbuster season. The affable Kate Hudson in her usual manner makes her character's story one worth sticking around for, with the film's well conceived script providing solid support for Hudson and her co-stars. While the film is probably not one that will find a massive box office, the value of this film comes not from mass appeal or a giant budget, but from its ability to provide an entertaining story for a few solid hours.|
It's not a "popcorn" movie like a big budget Michael Bay film, but rather an entertaining yarn that goes hand in hand with an over priced bucket of popcorn and a few dozen Sno-caps. No part of the film is truly extraordinary, but taken as a whole, the movie is exactly what many moviegoers seek out at the theater: something enjoyable that isn't too heavy on message or social presence, but that isn't just an hour and a half long fart joke. The casting of a film can signal doom for even the best written scripts, though in a film with a good (but not necessarily great) script, good casting is essential.
And The Skeleton Key is fortunate in this area since the actors seem comfortable in their roles and also possess an appreciable chemistry with one another. As the wife of the incapacitated man Hudson's character is hired to take care of, Gena Rowlands is appreciably strange and menacing during Hudson's journey to figure out just what is inside the dark, cobweb-strewn attic with the mysterious door, bad lighting, and pile of dusty antiques. And this film has an abundance of old antiques, old peeling wallpaper and rusty chandeliers.
And speaking of dusty antiques, the set designer and his crew have created a wonderful visual platform to rest a ghost story on with the design of the swamp house and the interior New Orleans locations. Movies set in New Orleans so usually rely heavily on the inherent gothic history and architecture of an area known for being a unique amalgamation of cultures and traditions. And this film is no exception and while the Halloween-like atmosphere of the city has certainly been used in films before, the charm of the area doesn't seem to have been exhausted in the realm of supernatural films and ghost stories.
But a film can't exist entirely on visuals, especially one where the cast is important for more than just reasons of story reveals and character development. The actors in a ghost story must ensure the audience is emotionally connected to the frights provided by the story in addition to being carried along by the fortunes of the characters themselves. Co-stars John Hurt (playing the invalid Hudson takes care of) makes quite an impression by spending the entire film nearly mute and Peter Sarsgaard, playing a local lawyer, falls in easily to the Southern drawl of the distinctive New Orleans accent.
In most of its elements, this film seems like a throwback to the dark gothic mysteries of Hollywood's golden era. A pretty, young woman is caught in a situation involving any number of audial frights, visual mysteries, and psychological trickery. Many times it's a series of camera and lighting tricks that gives the audience the jolts and surprises it needs and it's not necessarily how unique these tricks are, but how good the actors are who have to scream at thin air or look frightened at the sound of a creaking door. And Kate Hudson manages to make those invisible haunts and unknown squeaks look believably frightening through her innocent and honest personality.
A creepy house, an ominous employer, a location out in the middle of the Louisiana bayou... this film has taken all the familiar elements of a creepfest and presented them in a popcorn-worthy few hours through steady storytelling and a few genuinely surprising plot twists. Lead star Kate Hudson is fortunate casting, as are her co-stars, with Gena Rowlands providing a welcome, strong presence. All the elements of a well-made film are here and on the big screen, The Skeleton Key provides just the right amount of jumps and jolts to create an enjoyable theatrical experience.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.