The Skeleton Key



Creepy thriller that's too scary for younger kids.
  • Review Date: November 18, 2005
  • Rated: PG-13
  • Genre: Horror
  • Release Year: 2005
  • Running Time: 104 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Characters cast hoodoo spells, deceive one another, and commit murder; a flashback shows a lynching scene.


Hoodoo spells, some jump scenes, scary scenes (wind, storms, shadows, ghosts), and violence.


Partial nudity (male and female, while bathing).


Mild, though one use of f-word.

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Frequent cigarette smoking, an early club/party scene, some drinking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this movie features scary images of hoodoo and conjuring, as well as jump scenes, abrupt flashbacks to the legendary source of the trouble, and some language (one use of the f-word). Characters smoke and drink, and use spells to call up and chase away spirits. One character hunts another with a shotgun; a wheelchair-bound older man frequently looks frightened and cannot speak; a woman falls and breaks both her legs; characters are trapped in rooms and ghosts appear. A lynching scene appears in a flashback.

What's the story?

An updated Southern Gothic-type of scary movie, THE SKELETON KEY focuses on a young, self-confident woman, Caroline (Kate Hudson), who takes a job caring for wheelchair-bound, mute stroke victim Ben (John Hurt). She moves into a Terrebone Parish mansion with Ben and his wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). Feeling guilty about the circumstances of her father's death, Caroline begins to feel the need to "save" Ben from Violet, whom she comes to see as dangerous. Violet's estate lawyer (Peter Sarsgaard) describes her petulance as a generational and regional, but this doesn't explain the spooky house. As Caroline grows more suspicious, the house turns creakier, the shadows more sinister, and doors more seductive. When Violet gives her a skeleton key that unlocks every door in the house, you know it's only a matter of time before she opens the wrong one.

Is it any good?


According to legend, the mansion was once home to a family who kept a pair of black servants, Papa Justify (Ronald McCall) and Mama Cecile (Jeryl Prescott Sales). Caroline discovers their pictures hidden around the house, along with various conjurations and rings shaped like snakes.

Not surprisingly, especially in a film about a girl who wants so badly to make amends for her personal past, the black couple's story represents (in abruptly edited, sepia-toned flashbacks) the definitive onus of U.S. history, involving white fear of blackness, white property anxieties, and white violence in the form of lynching. "The house is theirs as much as ours," mutters Violet. Everyone knows that white folks meddling in black folks' enchantments never works out in the movies. And so Caroline falls into trouble, not quite knowing whom she's helping and whom she's battling.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Caroline's desire to take care of "old people": while she expresses guilt over abandoning her father, how does the film use her story to reflect on a broader cultural need to respect (or at least know about) the past and previous generations?

  • How does the movie use hoodoo (and the black servants' tragic story) as

  • a metaphor for slavery, for which subsequent generations -- black and

  • white -- still suffer consequences?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:August 12, 2005
DVD release date:November 15, 2005
Cast:Gena Rowlands, Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard
Director:Iain Softley
Studio:Universal Pictures
Run time:104 minutes
MPAA rating:PG-13
MPAA explanation:violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity and thematic material

This review of The Skeleton Key was written by

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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  • A superior horror movie for older teens.

What parents and kids say

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Teen, 13 years old Written byMovielover456 May 16, 2014

Quite disappointed in CSM review

Skeleton key is a fantastic movie, the cinematic shots are stunning and the jump scares are enhanced with the audio. It has a plot twist you never saw coming and an excellent story. I have no idea why it was 2/5 stars. it is quite scary. There's a feeling of psychological terror, mystery, peril and uncertainty. VERY scary. But the sexuality isn't that bad. Really? 3 lips? You see a bare back to enhance the scene and a shirtless old man. Really common sense? I personally loved and was forever frightened by this movie. Okay for mature teens!
What other families should know
Too much violence
Teen, 14 years old Written byHoneyCruller June 29, 2010

I always have the themes I want written.

When some kids hear the term; "scary movie," they think blood , gore, and serial killers. If that was the case, the thrillers in our world would all be meaningless and mediocre, just like their stereotype. The Skeleton Key is suspenseful, wonderful, and has that occasion where you might want to hide your eyes from the screen. I love the plot, the magic, and the theme is very supernatural and the entire thing, is, interesting.
Adult Written bytommysportsgirl April 9, 2008


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