Horror for horror’s sake

In Skeleton Key, Iain Softley takes the viewer through a series of scary events that give no clue about the story, writes Ervell E. Menezes

Kate Hudson in Skeleton Key
Kate Hudson in Skeleton Key

Remember Normal Bates’ house in Psycho? Well, that has become a symbol of eerie horror and has been replicated in other films. While others locate their stories in marshy, shady places, out in the wilderness, Skeleton Key is set in an isolated plantation house, an hour’s drive from New Orleans.

Then sprinkle some mumbo-jumbo of a little-known culture in southern Louisiana where rituals and superstitions from as diverse countries as Africa, France, the Caribbean and Spain have left a residual belief of the netherworld and with it the eerie spirits that usually inhabit it.
Next, despatch a 25-year-old daring, strong-minded young woman called Caroline (Kay Hudson) to look after an old and supposedly very loving old couple, Violet (Gena Rowlands) and Ben Devereaux (John Hurt). Ben is paralysed and Caroline must nurse him right through the day. She is given a skeleton key by Violet that will open every room. So far, so good.

The ambience is good, the old woman looks suspicious and makes this known to Luke (Peter Sarsgaard), the lawyer, who gives Caroline her assignment. The house continues to creak when doors are opened but there’s a catch.

The skeleton key does not open one door. But that is far as the story goes. The bigger hitch is that Caroline doesn’t have a clue as to why certain things take place. The first red herring is of course Violet. Then Ben, who is mute, finds himself crawling on the rooftop and falls. There’s a mirror that shows "new faces." It’s all happening and director Iain Softley seems to be none the wiser. True, Kate Hudson, last seen in Raising Helen, is quite enthusiastic about the proceedings but the same cannot be said about Gena Rowlands who is very patchy and can hardly be mentioned in the same breath as "Gloria," with John Hurt merely going through the motions.

What takes place has little rhyme or even less reason and the viewer is taken through a series of scary events with candles burning and doors thudding but giving no clue whatsoever about the story which has long since run out of ideas. It continues to provide shocks in a horror for horror’s sake manner. Peter Sarsgaard’s role doesn’t make things easier.

It is one big confusion that is far too simplistically cleared Nevertheless, the end is looked forward to, if only because it is precisely that, the end. So Skeleton Key is yet another horror film that pretends to achieve greatness but only falls flat on its face. Avoidable.