The Skeleton Key

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The Skeleton Key
Skeleton key.jpg
Promotional poster
Directed by Iain Softley
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Stacey Sher
Iain Softley
Daniel Bobker
Written by Ehren Kruger
Starring Kate Hudson
Gena Rowlands
Peter Sarsgaard
John Hurt
Joy Bryant
Music by Edward Shearmur
Cinematography Dan Mindel
Edited by Joe Hutshing
Distributed by Universal Pictures
Release dates
July 29, 2005 (2005-07-29)
United States
August 12, 2005 (2005-08-12)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $43 million
Box office $91,974,818 (Worldwide)[1]

The Skeleton Key is a 2005 American supernatural horror film[2] starring Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, John Hurt, Peter Sarsgaard, and Joy Bryant. The film centers on a young hospice nurse who acquires a job at a Terrebonne Parish plantation home, and becomes entangled in a supernatural mystery involving the house, its former inhabitants, and the hoodoo rituals and spells that took place there. It was released in cinemas in the United Kingdom on July 29, 2005, and in the U.S. on August 12, 2005.


Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) is a New Orleans Hospice Aide who interviews for a position as a private caregiver at an isolated plantation house deep in the bayous of southern Louisiana. The lady of the house, Violet Devereaux (Gena Rowlands), looks after her husband Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt), who has had a stroke. With some prompting from the family's estate lawyer, Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), Caroline accepts the position.

Caroline discovers that the mansion has a dark past. Finding her way into a secret room in the attic (where Ben had his stroke) using a skeleton key that Violet gave her, she discovers dolls, a book of spells, potion jars, and various other magical paraphernalia. Violet reveals to Caroline, shown through flashbacks, that the room belonged to two house servants who were employed there 90 years prior. The couple, Mama Cecile (Jeryl Prescott) and Papa Justify (Ron McCall) were renowned practitioners of Hoodoo. Violet reveals that the couple were lynched when it was discovered that they were performing Hoodoo spells with the children of the house owners. Violet also tells Caroline that they do not keep mirrors in the house because they see the reflection of the servants in them. Caroline, however, remains a skeptic.

Caroline believes that hoodoo is affecting Ben's illness somehow. Taking advice from her friend Jill (Joy Bryant), she goes to a local dry cleaner, known to have a hidden Hoodoo shop, to acquire a defense for Ben. Caroline does not believe in Hoodoo, but she thinks that Ben does and that he can be helped by believing the curse has been lifted. An old woman tells Caroline that hoodoo cannot hurt you if you do not believe in it. The woman teaches her a ritual with items to use to cleanse Ben's illness. When Caroline practices the ritual, Ben regains some ability to talk; he warns her to get him out of the house because Violet is a threat.

Caroline tells Luke about her suspicions, but he rebuffs her idea. They travel to a gas station that Caroline previously noted was lined with brick dust, which she is told is a defense against Hoodoo. A blind woman tells her of the Conjure of Sacrifice. In the secret attic room, Caroline had discovered a phonograph recording of Papa Justify, with this handwritten title. The old woman tells Caroline that this powerful spell is one of immortality, in which the caster sacrifices someone and gains the remaining years of their life. Caroline increasingly believes that Ben is in danger, but Luke belittles her fear.

Caroline uses brick dust to confirm her suspicions of Violet and drugs her to keep her out of the way. She tries to escape with Ben, but they find the gates locked. She leaves, promising him she'll return. Caroline seeks help from Luke to rescue Ben but learns he is allied with Violet. Luke captures her and takes her back to the plantation bound and gagged. She escapes again and scatters brick dust in the mansion; Luke is kept off, but Violet gets to Caroline.

After a brief struggle, Caroline pushes Violet down the stairs, breaking her legs. Caroline flees to the attic where she sees it set up for some kind of ritual. She follows paper instructions, making what she thinks is a protective circle, only to learn she has trapped herself. Violet enters, saying that Hoodoo works only on those who believe in it, and "they" have been waiting for Caroline to believe. She tries to deny it but is afraid. The recording of Papa Justify's Conjure of Sacrifice plays, which enables the conjuring soul to transfer to a new body, not merely confiscate years of life.

Violet pushes a mirror at Caroline, which reflects a little girl, then Violet, and last Mama Cecile. Caroline is knocked unconscious; and, when she wakes, she finds Violet barely conscious. She says that it is getting harder to make people believe. "Caroline" gives "Violet" a liquid that causes a pseudo-stroke so that she can't reveal the truth about Mama Cecile and Papa Justify. When Caroline's friend Jill arrives at the Plantation, "Luke" informs her that "Ben" and "Violet" left the house to "Caroline", thus allowing Mama Cecile and Papa Justify to continue occupying the house. The film ends with Caroline and Luke looking at each other helplessly, trapped in the dying bodies of Violet and Ben.


  • Kate Hudson as Caroline Ellis
  • John Hurt as Benjamin Devereaux
  • Gena Rowlands as Violet Devereaux
  • Peter Sarsgaard as Luke Marshall
  • Joy Bryant as Jill Dupay
  • Isaach De Bankolé as Creole Gas Station Owner
  • Maxine Barnett as Mama Cynthia
  • Fahnlohnee R. Harris as Hallie
  • Marion Zinser as Elderly Bayou Woman
  • Deneen Tyler as Desk Nurse
  • Ann Dalrymple as C.N.A
  • Trula Marcus as Nurse Trula
  • Tonya Staten as Nurse Audrey
  • Thomas Uskali as Robertson Thorpe
  • Jen Apga as Madeleine Thorpe
  • Forrest Landis as Martin Thorpe
  • Jamie Lee Redmon as Grace Thorpe
  • Ronald McCall as Papa Justify
  • Jeryl Prescott as Mama Cecile
  • Cristha Thorne as Creole Mother
  • Lakrishi Kindred as Frail Customer


The Skeleton Key was filmed at the historic Felicity Plantation, located on the Mississippi River in Saint James Parish, Louisiana, not the coastal Terrebonne Parish. At the end of the movie, the aerial shot of the house and its grounds was made by CGI technology. In that shot, the house and the grove of trees surrounding it are real, but the swamp was created by CGI. Behind the house lie hundreds of acres of fields. The house is not really run down; it was decorated with ivy, among other things, to set the tone.[citation needed]



The film received generally mixed reviews from critics. Review aggregate site Rotten Tomatoes reported that 39% of critics gave positive reviews, based on 142 reviews.[3] Metacritic reported 47% with a score of 6.2, based on 32 reviews.[4] Scott Brown of Entertainment Weekly called the film "For anyone zombified by creaky thriller clichés, Skeleton is a fine little shot in the head".[3] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times said "One of the most enjoyably inane movies of the season, this faux Southern Gothic offers an embarrassment of geek pleasures".[3] Peter Hartlaub of the San Francisco Chronicle gave a negative review of the movie and said "A well-intentioned horror film that is weighted down by stellar cast members who for the most part act as if they do not want to be there".[3]

Box office[edit]

The film was a financial success, with a worldwide gross of $91,974,818. In the U.S., it raised $16,057,945 in its first weekend, reaching Number 2 at the box office, taking a total domestic gross of $47,907,715.[5]


External links[edit]