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The Skeleton Key (2005) Zombies are, if anything, overrepresented in today's movie marketplace. Yet the spiritual tradition that invented them — Afro-Caribbean voodoo — rarely gets the spotlight, serving… 2005-08-12 PG-13 PT104M Mystery and Thriller Kate Hudson Peter Sarsgaard Joy Bryant John Hurt Gena Rowlands Universal
Movie Review

The Skeleton Key (2005)

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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Kate Hudson, The Skeleton Key | I KNOW MY CONTACT IS HERE SOMEWHERE Come on and show us the ''hoodoo'' that you do so well
Image credit: Skeleton Key: Merrick Morton
I KNOW MY CONTACT IS HERE SOMEWHERE Come on and show us the ''hoodoo'' that you do so well
EW's GRADE
B

Details Release Date: Aug 12, 2005; Rated: PG-13; Length: 104 Minutes; Genre: Mystery and Thriller; With: Kate Hudson and Peter Sarsgaard; Distributor: Universal

Zombies are, if anything, overrepresented in today's movie marketplace. Yet the spiritual tradition that invented them — Afro-Caribbean voodoo — rarely gets the spotlight, serving mostly as a genre backdrop for all-too-familiar stories about good-looking white people in over their heads (e.g., Angel Heart). Naive hospice caretaker Caroline (Kate Hudson) certainly falls into that category, but The Skeleton Key, a basic bayou thriller distinguished by a very self-conscious subversive streak, rises nicely above C-level.

''Hoodoo,'' we're informed, is different than voodoo. (It's à la carte folk-magic, whereas voodoo is a bona fide religion.) All of this is news to Caroline, a caretaker who's taking a crash course in ''conjuration'' because she believes it's connected to the catatonia of her latest sickly charge, Ben (John Hurt). Blocking her path is Ben's wife, a honey-tongued battle-ax named Violet (Gena Rowlands, having a blast), who complains, rightly, that this Yankee interloper doesn't ''understand the house.'' Because the house, of course, has a past. That's clear from one look at its rotting plantation colonnades. It comes as no surprise to learn it might be haunted. Ditto the revelation that, once upon a benighted time, a pair of black servants were terminated, shall we say, with prejudice. But what comes next, depending on your point of view, is either a canny manipulation of racist movie tropes or an exercise in facile genre-flick reductivism. The distinction may not matter: For anyone zombified by creaky thriller clichés, Skeleton is a fine little shot in the head.

Originally posted Aug 10, 2005 Published in issue #834-835 Aug 19, 2005 Order article reprints