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Skeleton Key Unlocks the Door to Suspense
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Despite dreary reviews and the expectation of another hack screenplay from “Brother’s Grimm” scribe Ehren Kruger, “Skeleton Key” turned out to be a haunting, atmospheric thriller with a strong cast and a nasty stinger of an ending that resonates long after the film concludes.

Hospice caregiver Caroline Ellis (Kate Hudson) quits her job, disillusioned by the staff’s apathy of hands-on support towards the elderly patients at her nursing home. She hopes that home-support would gratify her need to assuage past guilts. She answers an ad to treat invalid Ben Devereaux (John Hurt, “Alien”) at his gothic plantation home in the backwaters of New Orleans. Lorded over by his domineering wife Violet (Gena Rowlands, “The Notebook”), Ben harbors a frightening secret that could endanger the innocent Caroline.

Desperate to solve the mystery, Caroline digs around in the boarded up attic, a room cursed by the practice of Hoodoo (a Haitian variation of Voodoo). Covered mirrors, eerie phonograph records and other occult paraphernalia lead her to a world of pure evil.

Director Iain Softley (“Wings Of A Dove”) leads the audience into a mystical world, one implausible yet intriguing. Similar to Alan Parker’s supernatural noir classic “Angel Heart,” “Skeleton Key” records the religion of the Bayou, with dismembered animals, spells and deals with the devil, in creepy detail. Through Softley’s lens, the forbidden world of Louisiana witchcraft appears as foreign as Saturn’s third ring.

Kruger, a screenwriter with a penchant for writing over-indulgent characters, lucks into a script where his fallibility fits into the gloomy, creaky New Orleans underbelly. The heightened dialogue that litters “Ring 2” and “Reindeer Games” making them laughable, actually contributes to this film’s ominous mood. And kudos must be given to him for the crackerjack twists that raise this film above just another Japanese horror knock-off like “The Grudge.”

Katie Hudson has always been compared to her mother, yet while Goldie Hawn has never been credible in thrillers (Is it any surprise that in a 35-year career, Goldie never ventured into suspense after the dreadful “Deceived”), Hudson lends earnestness to her role. Hudson has the ability to endear herself as a common person, enabling the audience to slip into her shoes, causing the horror she confronts all the more visceral for the audience.

Gena Rowlands, one of our most vital character actresses, avoids histrionics in a role that could have been a crass cartoon.

Oscar nominee Hurt (“Elephant Man”) receives no dialogue and instead relies on blind panic to convey a doomed ghost of a man.

From blasphemous cults to blasphemous language, Universal Studios has also just released the naughty comedy “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” How can a two-hour movie about a virgin getting laid with more four-lettered words than in a Quentin Tarantino flick still be innocent and charming? The answer is Steve Carrell.

Andy (Carrell), a 40-year-old emotionally undeveloped stock boy who collects child action figures, admits to his new friends of his embarrassing lack of sexual experiences.

True to the “American Pie” formula, the buddies attempt to end his virginity through a series of mishaps. True to the Farrelly Brothers’ formula, those hijinks are of the gross-out nature with vomiting, pleasure-giving showerheads and a body waxing scene to rival the hair gel incident in “There’s Something About Mary.”

The cast, including “Friends”’s Paul Rudd, adds the humor’s success. Hiring usually dour independent star Catherine Keener as a daffy single mother is a stroke of genius.

Carrell’s dopey portrayal makes the film delightful. Dorky, but sincere, his Andy is such a romantic, he lights candles and wears his best pajamas to watch a porno and take care of his own business. He treats women with respect and the times he attempts to be wicked, he can’t follow through.

The film’s only fault is its length. At 120 minutes, 20 could have been trimmed particularly in the first hour, before the relationship with Keener begins.

A silly, rewarding comedy from witty Carrell and Judd Apatow, creator of Television’s “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” updates the teen sex comedy genre by adding 20-some years to the characters’ ages. Grade: “Skeleton Key”: B-; “40-Year-Old Virgin”: B+

 
 
 
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