The Skeleton Key

I cannot begin to say how much I love this movie. The atmosphere is so unsettling and chilling…The kind of film that delivers a story so powerful it stays with you long after the final credits have rolled.

Here is the plot: Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson), is a New Orleans nurse who takes a position as a private hospice caregiver at an isolated plantationhouse deep in the bayous of southern Louisiana. The lady of the house Violet Devereaux(Gena Rowlands), looks after her husband Benjamin Devereaux (John Hurt), a stroke victim who is expected to pass away soon. At first, Caroline is unsure about taking the job, as Violet is very hostile and condescending towards her, but with some prompting from the family’s estate lawyer, Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), she accepts the position.Caroline, through her curiosity, soon 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 had been employed there in the 1920s. The couple, Mama Cecile (Jeryl Prescott) and Papa Justify (Ron McCall) were renowned practitioners of hoodoo, a form of Afro-Caribbean folk witchcraft. The couple, as revealed by Violet, were lynched when it was discovered that they were performing Hoodoo spells with the children of the house owners. Violet also told her that they do not keep mirrors in the house because they see the reflection of the servants. Caroline, however, remains a skeptic. In order to find answers about the ever-present hoodoo magic, which Caroline believes is affecting Ben’s illness in a psychosomatic way, she takes the advice of her friend Jill and goes to a local cleaners with a hidden Hoodoo shop to acquire a defense against the supposed Hoodoo being used on Ben. Caroline does not believe in magic, but she thinks Ben does, and making him believe that he is getting cured with magic might help. There, an old woman tells her the same thing Jill told her: that hoodoo cannot hurt you if you do not believe in it. The woman gives her various things and teaches her a ritual to cleanse Ben’s illness. She also tells Caroline about the use of brick dust, which according to hoodoo tradition, is meant to keep away those who mean one harm. When she did the ritual, it returned some of Ben’s ability to talk, and he tells Caroline to get him out of the house because Violet is a threat. Because of this, Caroline tells Luke about her suspicions but Luke, who is afraid that Caroline might leave the couple, rebuffs her idea. They then travel to a gas station that Caroline previously noticed to be lined with brick dust. There, a blind woman tells her of one of the most powerful hoodoo conjurations, the conjure of sacrifice. Caroline had previously discovered a record with this title on it in the secret attic room and feels as though it had something to do with Ben’s illness. 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. When this is revealed to Caroline she begins to sense that Ben is in danger. Again, Luke tells her that the idea is absurd and questions her that he though she she doesn’t believe, to which she answers she really does not, but the people do and that accounts for something.

With this on mind, Caroline uses some brick dust to confirm her suspicions of Violet. She then drugs the old woman and tried to escape with Ben. However, the gates are locked, and this pushes Caroline to hide Ben and escape all by herself, promising the old man that she’ll be back. Violet tries to shoot her with a shotgun but she is able to escape through the swamp. After the failed attempt to get Ben out of Violet’s grasp, Caroline seeks the help from Luke. At Luke’s house, Caroline discovers clues leading to the revelation that Luke is in league with Violet. Just as Caroline is about to act, Luke captures her, ties her up and gags her to take her back to the manor. Caroline is held captive but manages to get free and scatter brick dust throughout the house. This enchantment succeeds in keeping Luke away, but Violet gets to Caroline and blows a powder in her eyes that distorts her vision.

After a brief struggle, Caroline manages to push Violet down the stairs and breaks her legs. With Luke and Violet now downstairs, Caroline flees to the attic to find that the room has been set up for some kind of ritual. She follows the instructions on a piece of paper that she snatched from Violet earlier and forms a protective circle around herself. However, the protective spell was a trick intended to capture Caroline instead of protect her. Violet comes into the ritual room and explains that hoodoo magic only works on those that believe in it, and “they” have been waiting for her to believe. Caroline realizes that it was in fact she who was in danger and not Ben. Caroline tries to deny the fact that she now believes in hoodoo but cannot convince herself.

Violet pushes a mirror at Caroline, which initially contains the image of the little girl, then of Violet, and ultimately of Mama Cecile. The mirror smashes into Caroline, knocking her unconscious. Caroline then wakes up and walks over to Violet, who is barely awake. She remarks that it has become much harder for them to make people these days believe. This reveals that the soul of Mama Cecile is now inside Caroline’s body, and Caroline’s soul is now in Violet’s body. As well, Luke’s body is revealed to be possessed by the soul of Papa Justify. Ben, who was previously the host to Papa Justify’s soul, is revealed to be the real Luke.

Caroline/Mama Cecile gives Violet/Caroline a liquid that causes a pseudo stroke. This prevents her from talking so she can’t reveal the presences of Mama Cecile and Papa Justify. When Caroline’s friend Jill (Joy Bryant) arrives at the Plantation, Luke/Papa Justify informs her that “Ben” and “Violet” left the house to “Caroline,” thus leaving Mama Cecile and Papa Justify to continue occupying the house. The film ends with Caroline and Luke looking at each other helplessly, trapped in Violet and Ben’s bodies. When “Mama Cecile” and “Papa Justify” were lynched after performing the same spell with the children, it was actually the children who were lynched while occupying Mama Cecile and Papa Justify’s original bodies, with Mama Cecile and Papa Justify actually living on in the children’s bodies.

About Maison Moonchild

A Canadian gal that firmly believes words can change the world. An avid reader, writer and Halloween enthusiast. She has a special interest in communications and writes for pleasure and profession. She moonlights as a metaphysical maven with a knack for creating magical crystal jewelry and holiday accessories.
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