East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Skeleton Key: Southern hospitality [DVD note]

Starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Iain Softley

Back to our horror semitheme: in The Skeleton Key, there is a house near New Orleans, and it's been the ruin of, well, a lot of people, and Kate Hudson may be one. Softley (Backbeat! And, uh, K-PAX) first uses the vast emptiness of the house to creep us out (aside to instant gratification kids: it's supposed to be slow, it's called intrigue!) before beginning to unveil its secrets, filling the screen with exotica and old bones. We proceed to the unravelling, which is satisfying until the somewhat pat conclusion. But said ending allows two demonic moral jests. One reminds us that faith, so often a source of movie mush, can cut both ways -- if you believe you can fly, you might fall. The other says anything goes in the name of self-preservation, so if you're a mistreated black servant, it's sensible to pick up a working knowledge of hoodoo.

In Almost Famous, Kate Hudson looked like the second coming of her moms; since then she's pissed her career away. So her self-determination here has been largely ignored -- she cuts a coasting Peter Sarsgaard and a plot-limited John Hurt, and gives Great Actress Gena Rowlands a run for her money. But Rowlands still walks off with the movie. Her Southern etiquette barely shades her demanding rigidity, so that the main pleasure of the movie is trying to work out whether she's Satanic or merely old-fashioned. At times it seems like Rowlands is parodying the Confederate belle, and in the end we learn this is perfectly apt.


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