Film Review: The Skeleton Key (2005)

I’m a huge fan of Southern Gothic as a genre, although I actually only learned today that the name for the genre started out as an insult. Ellen Glasgow was criticising Erskine Caldwell and William Faulkner and labelled them as ‘Southern Gothic’ and the name stuck. This was in 1935. But I really like the tone of Southern Gothic literature and cinema. True Blood (2008) and The Gift (2000) are the first things that usually spring to mind when I think of the genre, although I feel like Justified (2010) has some Southern Gothic vibes. If there’s such a thing as Modern Western Gothic, I’d put Justified in that category!

Continuing on with my October horror movie marathon, I picked up The Skeleton Key. The film follows a hospice nurse who quits her job because she finds that not enough people care about the patients, and takes a month-long job in the bayou at an old plantation house, caring for the ailing owner. She’s brought in by the estate agent, much to the wife’s frustration, but decides to stick it out.

Things are instantly eventful. There are no mirrors in the house, leading to a sense of foreboding, and the old man seems to be trying to communicate with Caroline, the nurse. As time goes on, more and more strange things start to happen. And then Violet, the wife, tells Caroline about the house’s history and the horrible things done by the previous owners.

You can see where this is going.

I’m not sure that angle really worked for me. It just made me really sad. Plantations hold devastating histories and having that incorporated into the storyline left me gloomy. I did think the actors did a good job, and I certainly didn’t see the ending coming, but overall this movie wasn’t for me.

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