With its slow but inexorable buildup to the climax, The Skeleton Key garners a great deal of its terror with a growing dose of just plain eerie. Director Iain Softley plays the audience by relaxing them just so the next revelation will bring them back to the edge of their seats.
A young hospice nurse named Caroline Ellis, (Kate Hudson) decides to leave her job at a hospital to help care for an elderly man named Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt.) His wife, Violet Devereaux (Gena
Rowlands) explains to Caroline that the spirits of the house are responsible for her husband’s debilitating stroke.
Caroline gets drawn into a supernatural mystery in the old spirit-filled plantation house. It is soon apparent the elderly couple who are not all that they seem. As the mystery deepens, Caroline gets pulled into the strange world of Hoodoo where her preconceived ideas of the supernatural and magic are challenged as she becomes the target of a very dark spell.
Caroline realizes her very soul is in mortal danger.
After old Ben Devereaux attempts an escape from his room by trying to crawl out a window during a violent rain storm, Caroline uses a strange skeleton key given to her by Violet to investigate the house’s attic where Ben supposedly suffered a stroke.
Behind several shelves of old antiques Caroline discovers a secret room filled with strange items. She finds a very strange record called the “Conjure of Sacrifice” from the attic and borrows a record player to listen to the record which is a recording of Papa Justify reciting a Hoodoo ritual.
Caroline confronts Violet, who reveals that the room used to belong to two Negro house servants who worked at the house ninety years before.
The servants, who were known as Mama Cecile and Papa Justify, practiced Hoodoo but were hang by the plantation owner after they were caught conducting a ritual with the owner’s two children. These are the same two children from whom Violet said she and Ben bought the house. Violet tells Caroline that mirrors are forbidden in the house because they see the spirits of Cecile and Justify in them.
Caroline comes to believe that Ben’s stroke and paralysis is induced by his own belief that he’s been cursed, or crossed. Taking advice from her friend Jill, who has an aunt who is a Hoodoo practitioner, Jill takes Caroline to a Hoodoo shop hidden upstairs in a laundromat. After talking to the Hoodoo woman who runs the shop, the Conjure woman gives Caroline tools and instructions to cure Ben. After she conducts the ritual, Ben begins to speak, and begs Caroline to get him away from Violet.
From there the action is a nonstop climb through terror.
The film is set in Terrabonne Parish, deep in the swamps of Louisiana, and the cinematography captures the steamy environment till you can feel the thick humidity of the Swampy air. As the Hoodoo chants draw you into their orgasmic ritual you will be shocked at the unusual turn the story takes in its final confrontation with the bizarre. Without the need for explosions, CGI special effects or overblown sets, The Skeleton Key opens up a whole new cabinet of fright for what may be just the other side of your shadow.