Film / The Skeleton Key

A 2005 Psychological Horror film directed by Iain Softley, starring Kate Hudson, John Hurt, and Gena Rowlands.

Caroline (Hudson) is a hospice worker who takes a job caring for Benjamin (Hurt), an invalid at an old house in New Orleans. Things rapidly go downhill as the old man's wife Violet (Rowlands) behaves strangely, a locked room in the attic contains evidence of hoodoo rituals, and she finds the poor guy desperately wants to escape...

This film provides examples of:

  • Agent Scully: Caroline is new to the area in which she takes her job as caretaker, and the lore and traditions of the region strike her both as strange and silly... At least, at first. As time goes on and she is exposed to things she has trouble rationalizing, she starts to believe and begins playing by the rules of Hoodoo... Which was actually the antagonists' hope, as it results in the loss of her very useful Anti-Magic quality.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Hoodoo is a real folk practice, albeit not as sinister as the film tries to make it (and contrary to what Jill implies in her Info Dump, most of its adherents are Protestant Christians - in other words, God has everything to do with it).
  • And I Must Scream: A nasty potion is used repeatedly, that leaves victims with all the effects of a stroke. Caroline is made to drink it at the end.
  • Anti-Magic: Not believing in Hoodoo will make it useless against you. Caroline doesn't believe it until she starts following suggestions to ward off Violet, thus accidentally pulling herself into it....
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Cecile ends up possessing Caroline, leaving her stuck in Violet's crippled, mute body right alongside Ben (actually Luke, with the same thing done to him previously by Justify).
  • The Big Easy: Caroline lives in New Orleans and goes back there to visit Jill. However most of the movie takes place in the swamps, notably outside New Orleans.
  • Big Fancy House: Given that the Devereauxs' house used to belong to a rich banker - in the Old South no less - it's particularly grand. Though it is a little overgrown and diminished.
  • Black Best Friend: Caroline's, who knows about Voodoo but doesn't practice it. Possibly may have noticed "Caroline" speaking like an old lady at the end.
  • Black Magic: Turns out that the antagonists are using Hoodoo folk magic.
  • Body Surf: Cecile and Justify's method of immortality.
  • Brother–Sister Incest (maybe): Cecile and Justify are a married couple who possessed the bodies of a brother and sister. When said siblings were children.
  • Clap Your Hands If You Believe: Jill explains that the Hoodoo can't hurt you if you don't believe. It turns out the master plan is to make Caroline believe.
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Violet. She owns the house but has all the traits of a creepy housekeeper. She even tells Caroline not to bother with the housework, since she's the only one that knows how. But then again she's really Cecile, who was the housekeeper in her first life.
  • Equivalent Exchange: Sometime sacrifice is more like... an exchange.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: A lifetime of body surfing hasn't put a damper on Cecile and Justify's marriage.
  • Fate Worse Than Death: Being stuck in a body old and decrepit, unable to talk, helped by two "caring" people who at least will put you out of your misery soon.
    • Don't forget the servants switching bodies with you, then having your parents unwittingly lynch you and burn you alive — as young children.
  • Flyaway Shot: The movie ends with a shot of the house, as the camera flies away.
  • Grand Theft Me: The main goal of Cecile and Justify. They steal the bodies of younger people so they can extend their lives.
  • Hugh Mann: Happens at the end. Also the lawyer, now taken over, has to learn "lawayerism For Dummies" to pass over even for his job. That hoodoo bodysnatching has some drawbacks... but like they said, beggars can't be choosers.
  • Hollywood Voodoo: Somewhat averted, as the movie makes the distinction that the goings on are the result of Hoodoo, not Voodoo. Still lots of Black Magic and such to go around, though.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted. Cecile and Justify take over the bodies of little Martin and Grace, implicitly killing them in the process. But if one gets technical, only the children's minds died in the bodies of adults.
  • Mammy: Mama Cecile for Martin and Grace is a subversion, given that she's slim, attractive, married and a Hoodoo practitioner.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Violet, or rather, Cecile, oh so very much. Acting nice while hiding your true intentions? If you look at her previous conversations with Caroline, you would realize that every single one of them foreshadows about what she's going to do. And yet Caroline doesn't take a single hint before it's too late.
  • Offing the Offspring: Grace and Martin were unwittingly killed by their parents.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: The eponymous key is found in one of the main character dead patient's personal belongings.
  • Room Full of Crazy: Well, an attic full of Hoodoo anyway.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The heroes accomplish absolutely nothing, and in the end, they suffer the same fate as all the other victims.