The Skeleton Key Review

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Caring soul Caroline (Hudson) takes up a live-in nursing role with paralysed stroke victim Ben (Hurt) and his scowling wife (Rowlands) in their weathered Louisiana mansion — a house that harbours more than its share of secrets.


Those who have sampled the sweaty etchings of William Faulkner or seen Angel Heart will be aware the sulky doldrums of the Deep South are thick with bad juju. Five minutes out of New Orleans and you're swamped in cataractous witches, severed chicken heads and the ululations of slave-song. Stranding yourself in a house on the cusp of the bayou, lorded over by two cracked old coots and minus air-conditioning, is positively foolhardy.

Yet, for the sake of this excitable horror-lite, that's just what the irresistibly cute Kate Hudson does. In a heartbeat, she's got on the wrong side of Gena Rowlands' moody matriarch (who may lack a right side) and discovered a secret stash of dusty hoodoo paraphenalia; ingredients for a terrible curse.

Director Iain Softley harkens to the call of the Southern Gothic with a treacly atmosphere and the twangy lament of authentic 'Louisicana', but he's too eager to leap into formula frightwigging. When the plot threatens to falter, "weird locals" conveniently hand out exposition and advice. And what use is a subtext of belief versus pragmatism when supernatural activity is already on display? Still, the performances are strong (Rowlands has a ball) and the twist is a corker — an unexpectedly nasty outcome that casts an evil gleam over the preceding movie.

Eerie rather than scary, all signs point to the predictable — but it does manage a U-turn into the provocative.