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The Skeleton Key

David Lynch, of all people, once said, "It's a very good thing if you keep your eye on the donut and not on the hole.” Lynch was referring to the donut as the story a filmmaker intends to tell, and the hole could be anything that detracts from the telling of that story.

Some filmmakers get lost in the hole by focusing too much on the technological aspects of filmmaking (see George Lucas), and others get carried away in visual aesthetics (see Peter Greenaway). In Lucas’ respect, the obsession with the hole has a retrograde effect whereas Greenaway’s work, depending on taste, can transcend the need for focus in regards to story.

What does any of this have to do with The Skeleton Key? Nothing and everything. You see, either director Iain Softley (K-Pax and Hackers) or scribe Ehren Kruger (The Ring, The Ring 2) or both, seem to have suffered the ill-effects of “hole-infatuation” as well, and the outcome is a snore-inducing escapade with smatterings of interest here and there.

Smatterings, however, are not enough to make a decent film.

The hole in question is pandering to the conventional devices of modern horror films far too often, and it stifles every interesting aspect of The Skeleton Key to the point of suffocation. The outcome of the film does not support the shock and fright sequences that become more and more prerequisite for films of these ilk, but by the time audiences put this all together they won’t care to muster disconcert.

Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is haunted by the death of her father, and her absence while on a trip of self-discovery which prevented her from being there to care for him in his last days. This regret has curbed her need for self-discovery and paved a path of hospice for her while on the road to nursing school.

We meet her at a low point in her progression, the business end of hospice care for the elderly disenfranchises her with her station at an old folk’s home, and she decides to answer a personals ad request live in care for an elderly stroke victim named Ben Devereaux (John Hurt).

Not bad you say? Me too, initially. Hudson is the type of actress that can glean sympathy with little effort, and she works this to her advantage. It’s nice to see her back in the game, but not at this price. Caroline’s new digs finds her knee deep in the bayou, confronted with Hoodoo, a practice akin to Voodoo just minus the religious aspects.

It takes a while to get the pot boiling, but when it does the ghost story at the meaty center is actually pretty intriguing. The gist is that a pair of hoodoo practicing slaves named Mama Cecile (Jeryl Prescott Sales) and Papa Justify (Ronald McCall) were lynched on the grounds, and are now believed to be haunting the house because of their wrongful deaths.

Ben’s wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), believes that these spirits were behind her husband’s stroke, but Caroline is suspicious and digs deeper and deeper to uncover the truth.

The marketing of this film will prove fatal, as the majority of the attending audience seemed to expect a hack and slash film, and felt cheated by the rather somber and at times insightful plot. If only this film had dismissed its attempts to hold onto the “horror” aspects of the plot, and hence the senseless and inexplicable scares interspersed to keep viewers awake. Then it could have gone from a D to a solid D plus / C minus in my book.

Alas, the hole conquers all.


Mario Anima

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