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The Skeleton Key (DVD)

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“One of the year’s most pleasant surprise packages, and it’s a film that’ll have a few of us – including your trusty reviewer – paying more attention to rumours that the mother-in-law has been trying to put on you since the day you met” – Clint Morris


Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard

Not unlike the titular tool in Kate Hudson’s new movie, not every door gets a look-in within “The Skeleton Key” but there are some surprises behind those that are opened though – in turn, almost making up for the safe treading the film does in it’s opening half.

Caroline (Kate Hudson – looking more and more like her mother, Goldie, everyday)
Snags a new job as a live-in nurse caring for the sick husband (a mostly mute, John Hurt) of a cantankerous elderly woman (Gena Rowlands) at their run-down outsized mansion on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Caroline, a bit of a snoop, decides to have a look around the house, and stumbles upon the rather spooky attic. There, she discovers leftovers from the previous owners – a couple of servants who delved into black magic – and gets inopportunely interested. Who were they? Do they have something to do with the sick hubby’s stroke? Why can’t Caroline put up any mirrors in the house? And what’s with the old guy scrawling ‘help me’ across his bed-sheets?

A much more imaginative thriller than what Hollywood’s served up lately – mercifully, it’s not a remake of an old spookfest for once either, but something original – Iain Softley’s The Skeleton Key might be still insolently Hollywood – scares you can see coming from a reel away, fairly controlled performances, and the odd expected plot twist – but a lot of it is also quite inimitable.

From its fairly innovative storyline to its hard-to-guess outcome, it’s a film that – although could’ve been better, with an extra oil and grease near the middle – both enthrals and satisfies.

It’s a rare case of film exceeding trailer, and in today’s world where ‘preview puts cheeks on seats’ – that’s an atypical thing (Slap on the wrist for the studio trying to market it as a horror film too, when it’s no more than a nail-biting whodunit).

Points, no doubt, go to screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who penned Hollywood’s impressive remake of “The Ring”, a couple of years ago. Here, he’s also put together a film that’s as justifiably captivating as it is creepy. If only his middle-act had been as engrossing as his first and third – he’d have an even better movie.

Though the performances are quite good – Rowlands is obviously having a great time here – the motivations of their characters mightn’t ring true for some. Hudson’s character, for one, seems to lack a healthy dose of logic.

Still, “The Skeleton Key” is one of the year’s most pleasant surprise packages, and it’s a film that’ll have a few of us – including your trusty reviewer – paying more attention to rumours that the mother-in-law has been trying to put on you since the day you met.

There’s a great batch of extras on the DVD. Seems there’s a featurette for every little aspect of the movie – from the music, to Hudson’s past, and casting all the characters – but just press the ‘play all’ button to let them run one after the other, plus an OK commentary from the director and a bunch of deleted scenes (my least fave of any extras offering these days – they’re just a waste of time).

Rating :
Reviewer : Clint Morris

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About Caffeinated Clint

The writer/publicist/producer who wears the editor hat on Moviehole. Favorite films include "Say Anything...", "The Hunt for Red October", "Jerry Maguire", "Almost Famous", "Die Hard", "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", "Young Guns", "American Psycho", "Back to the Future" and the "Star Wars" series.
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