With the immense and often profound selection of horror films emanating from East Asia over the past decade or so, American horror cinema seems almost mundane these days. Proof of Hollywood’s desperation to create something truly horrific and classic is seen by the recent spat of US remakes of East Asian films, and the aesthetic look of such intense pictures as 2003’s Ju-On (The Grudge) and Jian Gui (The Eye) in 2002 show the impact of Japan on US horror. But sdly for horror fans, The Skeleton Key is truly mundane despite the influences.
Kate Hudson, looking a lot less dopey than her mother Goldie Hawn, plays 25 year old care worker Caroline Ellis. She takes a random job in Louisiana, which means a long move from home in New Jersey. She works for Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) helping care for her frail, practically comatose husband Ben (John Hurt), who suffered a stroke in their attic years before.
Caroline moves in as a live in carer and is given a skeleton key that opens the locks to every door in the house except the attic, which proves dark and mysterious to the recent employee of the household. As well as curious about what exactly lurks in the attic, Caroline is intrigued as to why Violet bans mirrors in her house. Caroline becomes obsessed with the attic and when she finally opens the door she makes a shocking discovery about the history of the house and its current inhabitants.
The central flaw in The Skeleton Key is the laborious build up to what is essentially a lame climax that offers as many chills as a summer holiday in the Caribbean. There is little sense of pace and psychological intrigue, which is one reason why the film fails to scare. Also, it has long become a cliche to use loud sound effects to frighten the viewer and here they are simply tedious and predictable.
The script is written by Ehren Kruger, the man who penned the recent, less than satisfying US remake of Ringu (The Ring.) Actually the story about the history of the house, and more specially the attic, is interesting and could have worked well in better hands. Here, though, it is not gripping or handled with enough care to sustain almost two hours of absolute absorption and emotion from the viewer, which is a shame.
Kate Hudson is watchable enough but hardly showing any great thespian talent and John Hurt gives a deliberately catatonic performance as the bed ridden stroke victim who is unable to speak. It is Gena Rowlands as the strange lady of the house who is the most outstanding despite the odd naff line or two (“Well child, I believe you’ve broke my legs.”)
Fundamentally, The Skeleton Key is an annoyingly slow film with only vague moments of tension and an underwhelming finish, but even when it gets going it is ultimately quite boring.