Skeleton Key
dir. Softley
Opens Fri Aug 12
Various Theaters

The Skeleton Key is clearly a tribute to awesome psychological/mystical thrillers such as The Omen, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, and Rosemary's Baby—but why should I give a crap? If I wanted to see a great example of this genre, I'd just stay home and watch The Omen, Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, or Rosemary's Baby. The reasons these films worked is because they exploited the fears of the times in which they were made—all The Skeleton Key exploits is my wallet.

Kate Hudson stars in this unnecessary tribute to the Southern gothic horror film, as Caroline Ellis, a New Orleans hospice worker who is hired to help tend to an invalid (a frightfully unused John Hurt) in a creepy, decrepit mansion. The invalid's old crone wife (the always reliable Gena Rowlands) presents Caroline with the mansion's titular skeleton key, which is supposed to open every door in the house—except for the one with all the murder-y, ghost-y voodoo stuff in it. Unsurprisingly, the former dead residents are behind all the creaking, door-slamming hubbub, and soon Caroline finds herself running faster than her cheap drug-store mascara.

To director Iain Softley's credit, the first hour of the film is sufficiently oppressive and claustrophobic—which would lead one to believe the story is building to a horrifying conclusion. Unfortunately, the plot hinges on Caroline's belief in voodoo—which for today's audience is only taken a bit more seriously than Scientology—and so the film falls apart in the final reel just like 80 percent of the other crap movies you've seen this year.

I'd wager only one crackpot in a million still believes in voodoo, and therefore this movie is all but irrelevant. But to the filmmakers, this seems to be an ancillary point. In their coked-out Hollywood fantasy world, they want us to be scared by a representation of films that used to scare them (those previously mentioned great films of psychology and mysticism). Unfortunately, The Skeleton Key doesn't have anything even remotely frightening for a modern audience. But if they replaced voodoo with Islamic fanaticism? Now we're talking scary!