Monday, January 08, 2007

The Skeleton Key

2005, US, directed by Iain Softley

Though director Iain Softley has never really fulfilled the promise he showed with Backbeat, which recounted the early years of the Beatles, there's a strange kind of fun to be had here with his orchestration of the clichés of the spooky American South (there's Spanish moss in the opening shot, for goodness sake!). Despite a cast with some major wattage (John Hurt, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard and, in a true blink-and-you'll-miss-it turn, Isaach de Bankolé), the film is an unpretentious Gothic thriller, set in an Old Dark House chock-full of secrets. Visually quite attractive, the film does have some pacing problems: after revealing his hand early on, Softley is forced to pad things out for a while, before a well-orchestrated and original twist at the conclusion. Kate Hudson plays a much less frothy character than usual, and she's generally credible in a more serious guise, with the underlying charm that makes her so watchable. Films like this remind me of the pantomimes I grew up watching each Christmas - that is, an experience to be enjoyed in a crowd, where the implausibilities are actively noted by talking back to the screen, with the audience able to yell 'he's behind you!' as needed.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States