The Skeleton Key (2005)

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Released 13-Dec-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Iain Softley (Director)
Deleted Scenes-With Optional Director's Commentary
Featurette-Making Of-Behind The Locked Door
Featurette-Exploring Voodoo/Hoodoo
Featurette-Recipe & Ritual: Making The Perfect Gumbo
Featurette-Blues In The Bayou
Featurette-Kate Hudson's Ghost Story
Featurette-Plantation Life
Featurette-Casting The Skeleton Key
Featurette-John Hurt's Story
Featurette-A House Called Felicity
Featurette-Gena's Love Spell
Trailer-Red Eye, King Kong
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2005
Running Time 99:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (78:48) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Iain Softley

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Kate Hudson
Gena Rowlands
John Hurt
Peter Sarsgaard
Joy Bryant
Maxine Barnett
Fahnlohnee R. Harris
Marion Zinser
Deneen Tyler
Ann Dalrymple
Trula M. Marcus
Tonya Staten
Thomas Uskali
Case ?
RPI $39.95 Music Ed Shearmur

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Hungarian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
English Audio Commentary
Hungarian Audio Commentary
Dutch Audio Commentary
Danish Audio Commentary
Finnish Audio Commentary
Hebrew Audio Commentary
Icelandic Audio Commentary
Norwegian Audio Commentary
Swedish Audio Commentary
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Directed by Iain Softley whose previous film was the slightly quirky K-Pax, The Skeleton Key is a high quality supernatural thriller that delves into the world of magic and Hoodoo (as opposed to Voodoo which is quite different).

    The story centres on Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) who is working in a hospice but is uncomfortable with the emphasis on profits and the lack of focus on patient care. She decides to take a job in the swampy south land of Louisiana caring for stroke patient Ben (John Hurt), who lives in a run down southern mansion with his devoted wife Violet (Gena Rowlands). Violet gives Caroline a skeleton key which she explains will open all the doors in the house.

    While in the attic one day she hears noises and banging coming from behind a locked door which she finds cannot be opened with the skeleton key. Violet explains that the door has never been opened. When Caroline finally gets into the room she discovers many Hoodoo artefacts. Caroline enlists the help of Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), the estate’s lawyer, to learn more about Hoodoo and what it is she believes Violet might be hiding from her.

    I have to admire director Iain Softley’s attempt at making a serious supernatural thriller film. The film has a very high production value which is reflected in the terrific cinematography and top notch set design. In the end I feel your enjoyment of the film may well hinge on your ability to believe in the Hoodoo magic presented in the film. As a sceptical person in regard to these sorts of things I was never really able to buy into this aspect of the story and maybe this affected my overall appreciation of the film.

    The cast is generally extremely effective. Kate Hudson is perfectly well cast as the young and enthusiastic carer and Gena Rowlands adds a wonderful charm to the elderly Violet. Excellent is John Hurt in a role almost reminiscent of his role in The Elephant Man. As a stroke patient he has virtually no dialogue but manages to steal every scene he is in. Surprisingly less effective is Peter Sarsgaad as the young Lawyer. I understand why he was chosen for the role but I found him ultimately unconvincing as the southern lawyer which is disappointing as he is usually excellent in any role he tackles.

    This film has some genuinely suspenseful moments. Unfortunately it paints itself into a corner plot wise and the final third of the film plays like a b-grade thriller and I found the ending less than satisfying . During a dramatic scene towards the end of the movie Violet tells Caroline that she must believe in Hoodoo in order for it to work. Maybe we as viewers must believe in it too because the ending just didn’t work for me. I didn’t believe in it and ultimately wasn’t able to buy into key aspects of this film.

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Transfer Quality


    Overall The Skeleton Key has been given a very pleasing transfer with only a few minor issues to note.

    The image is presented at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 which matches the original theatrical aspect ratio of the film. It is 16x9 enhanced.

    The image exhibits very pleasing levels of sharpness and image detail. Shadow detail is very good and the image is free of any low level noise.

    Colours are accurate and well saturated and exhibit natural skin tones. No evidence of colour bleeding was observed.

    Some minor edge enhancement was observed such as the outline of a building at 6:11, but this should not be too noticeable or distracting for most viewers.

    I sampled the subtitles which are white and easy to understand. They closely match the onscreen dialogue.

    The DVD is presented as a dual-layered disc with RDSL encoding. The layer change occurs at 78:48 which is very well placed at a fade to black.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The English soundtrack is of good quality but quite front oriented.

    The English soundtrack is Dolby Digital 5.1 encoded at 384 Kb/s.

    Dialog was easy to understand and I did not observe any issues with audio sync.

    The original music by composer Ed Shearmur is excellent at underpinning the tension and emotion of the scenes and it is also impressive how he has been able to blend New Orleans influences into the soundtrack.

    The soundtrack is very front oriented with the surrounds only being used for atmosphere and music. They were used quite effectively, for example during a rain storm at 25:54.

    The subwoofer too was used fairly sparingly to enhance sound effects such as the abovementioned storm and was also used at times to enhance tension.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    The actual quantity of extras here is quite impressive but most of these are quite short and either have only a passing relevance to the actual film or are electronic press kit type material. Nonetheless if you enjoy the film this package of extras should keep you entertained for a while.


    After the Universal Logo sequence we get the now ubiquitous Anti-Piracy advert followed by the typical copyright notices. The menus are nicely animated and 16x9 enhanced with appropriately spooky sound to accompany it.

Audio Commentary – Iain Softley (Director)

    Director Iain Softley delivers a fairly dry commentary but one that nonetheless delves with quite some detail into the process of making the film. He discusses all aspects of the film making process including some quite technical stuff. This is a commentary that might appeal to film students but is overall quite dull Despite the interesting information, I found it rather hard going.

Deleted Scenes with optional Commentary (21:41) 4x3

    A collection of deleted scenes including an alternative opening for the film. This is presented as one 22 minute block of footage. It would have been nice if it could have been broken up into individual scenes. This would have made it easier to watch the scene and then listen to the commentary, which is the way I prefer to watch deleted scenes. Director Iain Softley’s discussion of the reasons for the cutting of certain scenes is quite interesting and many good scenes were cut for the overall flow of the film.

Behind the Locked Door – The making of The Skeleton Key (5:27) 4x3

    Typical fluffy promotional featurette where the cast and crew gush over the film and their fellow cast and crew members.

Exploring Voodoo/Hoodoo (4:16) 4x3

    This little featurette gives us a brief history of Voodoo and what it is about and then goes on to explain that Hoodoo is completely different. Hoodoo it seems is about magic, spells and herbs while Voodoo is an organised religion.

Recipe & Ritual: Making the Perfect Gumbo (3:32) 4x3

    King (that’s a name) who describes himself as a producer, songwriter, singer, rapper and entertainer extraordinaire shows us how to make the “Perfect Gumbo”. This segment is over-stylized and I found the digital blurring of all logos and brands (which includes almost everything King is wearing) a bit annoying.

Blues in the Bayou (6:11) 4x3

    The film relied heavily on local music and this featurette showcases some of those musicians.

Kate Hudson’s Ghost Story (2:36) 4x3

    Actress Kate Hudson tells a personal ghost story about a house at which she stayed in London as a little girl while her mother was shooting a movie there.

Plantation Life (3:36) 4x3

    Modern day plantation owners give us a brief idea of plantation life in the slave days.

Casting The Skeleton Key (9:15) 4x3

    Something of an extension of the ‘Making of Featurette’, this one features the cast and crew gushing over the cast. Contrary to the title, it contains very little discussion about the actual casting process. The featurette contains something of a spoiler about one of the major film twists and as such is best not viewed until you have watched the film first.

John Hurt’s Story (3:31) 4x3

    Actor John Hurt reads an extract from the memoir of a slave.

A House Called Felicity (5:20) 4x3

    This featurette is about the house used for much of the shooting of the film and includes discussion about some of the pros and cons of shooting on location.

Gena’s Love Spell (1:21) 4x3

    Actress Gena Rowlands details a so-called love spell involving popsicle sticks, a jar, honey and sugar.

Red Eye International Trailer (1:45) 4x3

    Trailer for the film Red Eye.

King Kong Trailer (2:29) 16x9

    Trailer for Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    From what I can gather from reviews of the Region 1 DVD the only difference is in the trailers. We get trailers for Red Eye and King Kong while the Region 1 gets trailers for American Pie Presents: Band Camp, The Ice Harvest, War of the Worlds and Cinderella Man. I'd call this one a draw.


    I must concede that The Skeleton Key is a well made supernatural thriller that I'm sure many will be enjoyed by many but it's a film that really didn't work for me. The video transfer is excellent and the soundtrack is good though nothing exceptional. The extras are very extensive but none of them alas are of any real substance.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Michael Gauntlett (read my bio if you're bored.)
Saturday, February 25, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVPNS575-S Progressive Scan, using Component output
DisplayPanasonic PT-AE900E HD LCD Projector onto 90" 16x9 Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderLogitech 5500 THX. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationLogitech 5500 THX
SpeakersLogitech 5500 THX

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