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Friday, 5 July 2013

And Now, I Spoil The Skeleton Key, With Spoilers

Here's one for you. What do you get when you cross Misery with Scooby Doo on Zombie Island?

Apart from the easiest way to ruin a child for ever.
The correct answer is The Skeleton Key. One of those spooky thrillers that was all the rage around the late nineties and early noughties. Inspired by a certain movie's unusual success and based on the same model of the predictably unpredictable ending, these films are enjoyable for the simple fact that you know exactly what you're getting before you even start the torrent downloading, because who the hell would pay for a movie that looks exactly like the last five?

"I see dead advertising executives."
You may not remember this film coming out. There is not a lot that is special about The Skeleton Key. The only reason I'm writing about it is so I could make the gif up there. You will know the entire plot before I even tell you. After I tell you, you'll know it twice. And you'll have forgotten something important to make brain-room for it. Like where your mum's grave is. Or which of your neighbours is a convicted paedophile. Or which neighbour's house you left your child at.

"From what I can see, he's either at Jackie's having milk and cookies or at Dave's being sodomised."
Shall we get this over and done with then? Let's rattle through the list of ever so original aspects found in this wonderful example of modern Hollywood cinema: A big, old, creaky white house with a dark past (from my knowledge these places make up 80% of American real estate, the other 20% being the White House and/or government testing facilities), a surprisingly attractive blonde protagonist, ghosts in one form or another, a possible magical influence, the plot device cum weak character who will undoubtedly turn out to be the bad guy by the end and some kind of secret room or book or conch or casserole dish that the character is told in no uncertain terms not to go near.

I watched this for one reason and one reason alone, John Hurt. That guy is my old man crush. He is beautiful, I would happily take a Face-Hugger for him, and he only ever seems to appear in good movies.

He tries his best to hide in any bad ones.
This is not a good movie. It's not a bad movie either, though. It's just mind-numbingly plain. And Mr. Hurt's role is the first warning sign of that fact. He is cast as the elderly husband of this totally-not-going-to-turn-out-to-be-evil woman, motionless and afraid after suffering from what we are told is a stroke. He is the sole reason we are at the house in the first place and the only line he utters in the entire movie is the stuttered cry of "Help me!" through gritted teeth and a cold, empty gaze. So essentially he is playing the part of how the audience is feeling after about 40 minutes.

The whole experience gets a lot more meta when you imagine the parallel was intentional.
The twists are predictable, the characters one-dimensional and the scares are few and far-between and sign-posted with about as much subtlety as letting your bare chest show through your trench coat at a beauty pageant. But none of this matters, for the key to a successful horror/mystery/thriller cash cow is the story.

Bless them, they try. We've got the great set-up to a rich plot: a deep-south setting with elements of racial and religious prejudice spanning generations, the presence of authentically portrayed black magic (we'll get to that), the possibility of some good, old fashioned horror movie boobage, and an item presented at the very beginning of the film with the enticing power to open any door in the house, which is incidentally where the title of the film originates.

Incidental is the key word here. Everything you hope the movie is going to do is swiftly discarded by the director with the blasé confidence of a man with a much bigger plan. Spoiler alert: There is no such plan.

Pictured: The sum total of all the boob in the movie, and this is in a flattering aspect ratio.
The racial tension and religious presence? Used to set up a very thin story involving a lovely lynch/hanging of two black servants/religious magic practitioners (takes me back to my childhood). Black magic? Introduced along-side a novel concept (patience, we're getting there) before falling into the usual rut of tiresome tropes. The Skeleton Key? What skeleton key? Oh, that thing; it's completely forgotten about around the twenty minute mark. After a promising opening we are treated to a run-of-the-mill affair where the protagonist slowly unravels the very poorly hidden secret of the house's owners and learns that the magic she believed to be total hocum was actually real and OH MY GOD it turns out that the seemingly well meaning old lady and possible love interest are actually evil Hoodoo (not a typo) magicians or whatever.

I would have considered it a spoiler if these two didn't already look so much like untrustworthy bastards.
It's safe to say there's nothing here you couldn't find elsewhere that look and feels less like a cheap copy. But, for the sake of good sportsmanship, I will now take a moment to look at the better aspects of the film.

It's the thought that counts, and the makers of this film can be proud of that. The magic which serves as the primary source of creepy shit (technical term) in the story has been nicely researched for authenticity. Hoodoo differs slightly from the more commonly known southern religion of Voodoo in that it focuses much more heavily on the use of folk magic to improve a believer's "luck". Much of what we usually see in film and TV is often Hoodoo practices incorrectly placed under the Voodoo banner. It's a little thing, but it makes you feel like the writers really tried to come up with something authentic. Although they did choose to omit the fact that said magic often involves the use of semen and menstrual blood in their spells.

It's amazing how one letter can make such a difference.
Moving straight on from that, the gimmick of the movie bases itself on the idea that said Hoodoo only works if a person believes in it; a concept which fits nicely into this kind of genre where its key to the development of the plot that the weird stuff only starts to gradually build up once our character has settled in nicely. Usually we're treated to the tiresome to and fro of "What was that noise? Oh, it's just the wind." for half an hour before shit starts to get real, but here the director is allowed to drip feed us random little snippets which begin to join together to make up the final climactic confrontation.

So yeah, The Skeleton Key is essentially another fine example of a nice concept marred by lack of imagination, shallow characters and far too many genre clichés. Also minus points for scaring John Hurt, you terrible people.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Overall Ben Equivalence Rating

Spending the Whole Day Watching Re-runs of Scrubs -
You know exactly what to expect, its enjoyable but gets shittier the longer you're watching it, and afterwards you feel very dirty...

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