One of the greatest compliments that I can pay Iain Softley's new Voodoo-esque thriller The Skeleton Key is that the breathtaking beauty of Kate Hudson is one of the least interesting things in the film. Sure, there are moments of partial nudity, as Hudson meanders around an old mansion in southern Louisiana in VERY short shorts. However, as opposed to many horror films that star an attractive young actress, The Skeleton Key stands alone purely on the strength of its story and performances.
Hudson plays Caroline, a hospice worker who decides to abandon her bureaucratic hospital workplace in order to be a homecare worker for stroke victim Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) and his devoted, yet slightly off-putting wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). After Caroline moves in with the Devereauxs, the fear that the couple holds for the dark arts of Voodoo (or Hoodoo, which is explained in the film) begins to play with her mind. She continually tries to convince herself that she does not believe in the power of the dark arts, while beginning to see that Violet may be less benevolent towards her husband than initially thought. Attempting to expose the supernatural as malevolent human intervention, Caroline enlists the help of the Devereauxs' lawyer, played by Peter Sarsgaard.
The Skeleton Key remains creepy all the way through, without relying on endless scenes of an attractive female slowly walking in dark places (*cough* The Grudge *cough*). The back story on the old house resonates in the viewer's mind as Ben wordlessly begs Caroline to help rescue him from a force that she does not believe in.
There is a twist ending, and it is satisfyingly unsatisfying (does that make sense? – see the film and it will). I understand that many viewers are getting tired of twist endings that really make no sense, but I feel this will be a pleasant surprise to everyone. The performances here are top-notch, particularly John Hurt's portrayal of a man in desperate need of help. Oh yes... and Kate Hudson is really nice to look at.