The Skeleton Key is one of those movies that uses a white lead character to explore an aspect of black culture while most of the black characters remain peripheral — sort of like a supernatural A Time to Kill, or Breakin’ with hate crimes. Thus, I was a bit apprehensive as to where the story was coming from, but it’s best enjoyed if you just let the movie play out until the final obligatory “twist” reveals what the heck is going on — and doesn’t degrade the race.
It’s basically a haunted house tale that invokes the black horror tradition of voodoo — or in this case, hoodoo — with pretty young white thing Caroline (Kate Hudson) taking a job as a live-in caretaker for sickly old-timer Ben (John Hurt), only to find that the old Louisiana plantation may be home to the ghosts of two (husband-and-wife) Negro servants who were lynched in the 1920s for teaching hoodoo to the children of the plantation owner. Caroline’s best friend Jill (Joy Bryant), being black, just so happens to know a thing or two about hoodoo and helps her figure out how to drown cats in goat’s blood during a full moon, or whatever it is they do.
Ever since The Sixth Sense, thriller “twists” have become increasingly lame and pointless, but in The Skeleton Key, it actually works quite well — and might actually be a bit funny, depending on your point of view and political affiliation. *SPOILER ALERT* It turns out, via hoodoo mumbo jumbo, the spirits of the two servants have been in the bodies of the old couple. Now that those bodies are old and decrepit, they need to do some body switchin’! By the time Caroline started working at the plantation, the male servant’s soul had already jumped from the old man into a young lawyer (Peter Sarsgaard) who’s helping Caroline, and at the end of the movie, the female servant’s soul transfers from Violet into Caroline’s body. The film ends with Caroline’s soul and that of the young lawyer occupying the old couple’s bodies, both incapacitated and mute, while the servants enjoy their new young bodies in the plantation, which has conveniently been willed to Caroline.
How’s that for payback?