Skeletons [1996]

Steeped in rain, humidity, and eerie bayou atmosphere, The Skeleton Key is an entertaining supernatural thriller that makes excellent use of its Louisiana locations. New Orleans and the rural environs of Terrebonne Parish are crucial in setting up the creepy circumstances that find compassionate caregiver Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) newly employed at the backwater plantation home of Violet (Gena Rowlands) and her invalid husband Ben (John Hurt), who's been rendered mute and seemingly helpless by a recent stroke. The place is rife with mystery, shrouded in the secrets of a suspicious past and, under Violet's stern supervision, plagued by superstition involving the use of Hoodoo magic spells (not to be confused with Voodoo, as explored in the similarly suspenseful Angel Heart) intended to protect the house from harm. But Caroline soon discovers the source of the mystery, and why Ben (who can barely utter a word) is so desperate to escape his seemingly comfortable domesticity. There are a few loopholes in the screenplay by prolific horror writer Ehren Kruger (The Ring and The Brothers Grimm), but director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) expertly emphasizes the edgy air of mystery, pushing some effective shocks while encouraging fine work from Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard (as Violet's lawyer) and especially Rowlands, who's genuinely disturbing as Skeleton Key nears a twist ending that's undeniably effective. --Jeff Shannon

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