A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
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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.
This is a scary and disturbing movie. 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.
Talk to your kids 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?
- In theaters: August 12, 2005
- On DVD or streaming: November 15, 2005
- Cast: Gena Rowlands, Kate Hudson, Peter Sarsgaard
- Director: Iain Softley
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Horror
- Run time: 104 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence, disturbing images, some partial nudity and thematic material
- Last updated: September 21, 2019
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