You don't have to be Southern to enjoy Southern Gothic. You don't even have to be American. Sitting in the swankiest multiplex in downtown Mumbai, a coffee in your right place-holder and a box of caramel popcorn on your left, you can visit the deep South for an hour and a half. Heck, you can even stay awhile.
Skeleton Key doesn't try to do too much, and what it does, it does damn well. That's its greatest strength. It's a little movie with a simple, one-shot idea that it explores from point A to point Z, and then wraps up neatly and effectively, with a shocker in the tail that would do a scorpion in Death Valley proud. There won't be any sequels to this little atmospheric shocker, nor will there be any franchises, and that's almost a relief in this age of over-produced, over-marketed, over-franchised movie-making. Just an hour and a half's entertainment in the dark, and then you get to go home and maybe talk about that ending on the drive home.
Dripping wisterias, weeping willows, murky swamps with a layer of mist undulating, an old house on the Louisiana backwaters, with a creaking porch, rocking chair and, of course, an attic with a secret room that even the master skeleton key can't open. Add to it all an old couple, Southern to the bone, eking out the last years of their lives.
Enter a young beautiful nurse to care for the old man, a tragic history that nobody wants to talk about, a little hoodoo magic, and you have the makings of a perfect 104-minute supernatural suspense thriller. Not a horror movie, unless you categorized What Lies Beneath as horror, with its quiet, building suspense and thumping shocks. No zombies lurching, no body organs spilling out, no buckets of gore splashing about...just quiet, scary-as-hell Southern Gothic.
The story's simple enough: A young attractive nurse Carolyn who works at a hospice caring for the elderly dying during their last days wants something more than just an impersonal job where, after an old person dies, his bed is turned over in twenty minutes to make place for the next warm body and his personal effects are put in a box and dumped in the bin out back. She wants to work with someone who actually cares about the patient.
So she takes on a job in the bayou, caring for an old man who's had a stroke recently that has left him completely paralysed. Or so says the old battle horse of a wife who runs her house and her husband in the old 'Southern style', and looks down on an 'outsider' whom she feels 'won't understand our ways, and won't understand the house'.