A review of “The Skeleton Key” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for language and intensity

Run Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

 

 

I’ll watch anything if Peter Sarsgaard is attached but this dumbed-down thriller is a stretch even for his biggest fan.

Kate Hudson plays true to type (read: lightweight) as Caroline, an empathetic hospice caretaker who needs a change of scenery. Opportunity knocks in the form of an old Louisiana bayou plantation housing Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) and her stroke-victim husband Ben (John Hurt).

Not just any house, mind you, but a Cajun classic with mysterious locked doors and mirrors removed from the walls. Superstition dies hard in the Old South and Caroline is going to get her fill. 

Naturally she snoops her little heart out and can’t keep away from the musty old attic. Cursory investigations produce formula arcane bric-a-brac -- old photographs, newt’s eyes, a sinister LP recording of the Conjure of Sacrifice -- that spells trouble.

Caroline’s niggling suspicions deepen with each new discovery. Lightning repeatedly knocks out the power but a bulb goes on over Caroline’s head: Is Violet sacrificing Ben with a hoodoo (not voodoo) magic spell and stealing the years he has left?

Been there, done that in more sinister settings and nimbler plots.  Rowlands (a consummate pro) and Hurt make the most of their screen time while Hudson goes through the motions as the It Girl who needs a drama on her résumé. Sarsgaard pops in sporadically as the Devereaux’s lawyer, smooth as a mint julep and looking fine.  Southern-fried mumbo-jumbo has its gothic moments but the abysmal finale is unforgivable.