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Bell, Book and Candle

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Iain Softley is a director who I feel has never really received his due – he’s a storyteller with a keen eye for detail and atmosphere and his ravishing and breathtaking 1997 adaptation of The Wings of the Dove (for which star Helena Bonham Carter garnered an Oscar nomination for best actress) is in my mind an absolute masterpiece. The Skeleton Key stars another once upon a time Oscar contender, Kate Hudson (nominated as best supporting actress for her work in 2000’s Almost Famous) who here portrays Caroline Ellis, a twenty-five year old living in New Orleans. Disgusted with the treatment of the patients at the clinic where she works, Caroline answers an ad in the paper and begins a new job, providing hospice care for Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt) who recently suffered a debilitating stroke and is the husband of cantankerous Violet Deveraux (Gena Rowlands). This work takes Caroline deep into the bayou to the forbidding and isolated Deveraux estate, where she finds all is not what it appears and superstition and magic are the order of the day.

The Skeleton Key features bold Southern Gothic flavor, a sly and knowing turn by Gena Rowlands and a zinger of an ending. Hudson makes an especially capable and sympathetic heroine and as she is in every scene, her direct performance goes a long way to carrying the film. John Hurt’s presence always adds gravitas and here in an all but wordless role, he speaks volumes with his haunted and chilling gaze.

Sometimes the editing gets a little too overzealous and I would have appreciated if a bit more time had been devoted to Caroline getting settled into her new job and surroundings before all the evil spells and spooky attic tropes were toted out, but this remains sturdy and fun filmmaking that is quite effective and that I often return to. B

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2 responses to “Bell, Book and Candle

  1. James February 11, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    Nice review, Cody. I remember when this came out, a couple of reviews I read compared it to the films of Val Lewton – I think because most of the other horror movies at the time weren’t so atmospheric or spooky, and it’s quite similar in story to I Walked With A Zombie (one of my favourite Lewton productions!). I never got around to watching The Skeleton Key though, and eventually it just fell off my radar. However your review has renewed my interest in it!

    • itallhappensinthedark February 11, 2011 at 9:21 pm

      Thank you! James, you really must check it out! Did Val ever direct or was he strictly a producer and screenwriter? I’ve only seen Cat People (which I absolutely loved) and The Seventh Victim (which I liked but didn’t love). I began watching I Walked With A Zombie a few times but never made it very far – I’m not sure why, I didn’t dislike it or anything. You watch The Skeleton Key and I’ll watch I Walked With A Zombie and we can compare notes!

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