Original Publish Date: May 25, 2012
Two weeks ago, I did a guilty pleasures list about movies I was ashamed to like. This week, I’m giving you a mediocre, middle of the way movie which I am horrifyingly ashamed to love like I have never loved a bland horror movie. And it’s not just cause it’s easy for my post-finals brain to digest, I’ve loved it for years. And lucky for you, this one’s gonna be short and sweet…really short.
This week on Manic Movie Magic, let’s look at the Southern Gothic thriller, The Skeleton Key.
It follows the tale of Caroline Ellis, i.e. Kate Hudson, who goes to work as an aide for an old New Orleans couple living in one of those stereotypical scary Southern homes. Unfortunately, this one is actually messed up – in the 1920s, two black servants were lynched and hung after performing hoodoo on the house’s children. Violet, and her post-stroke husband Ben live there now, but are of course suspicious.
As it turns out, hoodoo only works if you believe in it, which of course Caroline does as she maneuvers around the house over the coming months and discusses the peculiarities with the lawyer Luke. It comes to be revealed that the servants, named Mama Cecile and Papa Justify swapped bodies with the kids, so the children were actually lynched instead. The same happened with Ben and Violet, and once more with Luke, and now want to claim Caroline. Accidentally trapping herself with a protection spell, Caroline screams that she doesn’t believe in hoodoo to no avail.
So, Mama Cecile swaps with Caroline, putting her in Violet’s body instead, and forces her to have a stroke too and keeps the house where she and Luke/Papa Justify will live in until the next unlucky suckers come along.
Why is it bad? The effects are average at best, and while the background in engaging, the sporadic jump cuts aren’t and just seem messy and weird. Plus, the acting is just atrocious. Hudson comes off kind of like an ex-con jerk-face when nothing else in her character suggests that. She’s stiff, boring, and unempathetic – I root for her to get caught and body-swapped every time. And Mama Cecile/Violet comes off more like a Norman Bates – Predator hybrid, sweet and kind but also creepily intuitive.
Also there are holes the size of bowling balls all over this plot. Why do the two servants want to live forever? No explanation for that. And they would have not been lynched if they hadn’t been performing the body swapping spell in the first place. So why? They never expressed a dislike for their lives. And how does Papa Justify know how to act like a lawyer when he’s a healer? And what is the point of practicing hoodoo period when they can’t market on the skills and thus make no money on it?
Why do I love it? Because of the idea of it all. Body-swappers taking revenge on the racist, abusive assholes they worked for? Century old religion and magic with complex rules and runes? An ignorant, unlikeable woman trapped in the middle of it, fighting against her own sanity and fear for survival? YES TO ALL. Maybe if someone else had adapted this, with different actors, it could have been a much better movie, maybe even a great one.
Overall, The Skeleton Key is a pretty middle of the way kind of movie that’s creepy but not scary, making it an interesting little movie but certainly is never going to be a film remembered for decades to come. But I still love it, despite its many flaws and watch it whenever possible.
Rating: 2.5/5 stars