• Rose East

The Skeleton Key (2005)

This summer is the summer of witchcraft, for me anyways. Starting off with not the oldest or the newest, The Skeleton Key (2005) has the elements of a thriller and suspenseful horror that I look for in a good movie. Hoodoo and voodoo are two things that I won’t touch with a ten foot pole. Both belief systems are closed practices that should only be practiced by the professionals in the matter, those who have had it passed through their families and spent countless hours learning and being guided by spiritual leaders.


When it comes to The Skeleton Key (2005) we are talking about Louisiana or New Orleans voodoo in particular. According to New Orleans’ official website voodoo originated in Louisiana with enslaved West Africans (2022). A religion also called Voodoo-Catholicism, New Orleans Voodoo is heavily connected to nature, spirits, and ancestors (New Orleans, 2022). In 1791 a slave revolt led to free people of color adopting Voodoo as an essential part of their culture, even going on to have Voodoo leaders being spiritually and politically involved in New Orleans society in the 1800s (New Orleans, 2022). Practices include spiritual baths, prayer, and rituals used to cure ailments and to help those who are sick, poor, or hungry (New Orleans, 2022).


In this movie our main protagonist, Caroline Ellis (played by Kate Hudson) finds a live-in hospice care position looking after Ben Devereaux (played by John Hurt) alongside his wife Violet Devereaux (played by Gena Rowlands). Things are not what they seem however when odd supernatural occurrences begin to take place. Of course these occurrences escalate to Caroline finding that Voodoo is the cause.


Basically, two servants from long ago switched bodies with two little kids they looked after. They got caught during the ritual by the children’s father who then lynched the servants who were actually his children. The two children grew old and then stole the bodies of the couple that bought their land, Ben and Violet Devereaux. Now that Ben and Violet are getting older the couple is looking to switch bodies yet again with Caroline and the lawyer working with their estate, Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard). Prior to us joining this tale and unbeknownst to Caroline Papa Justify (played by Ronald McCall), the Voodoo practitioner and part of the couple that switches bodies, has already assumed Luke’s body. At the end of the movie Papa Justify and his wife Mama Cecile (played by Jeryl Prescott) are successful and assume the bodies of Caroline and Luke while sending them, now trapped in Violet and Ben’s bodies, to a care facility.


Now for starters Caroline did the most and I would’ve been shocked if this didn’t happen to her. She finds out Voodoo is afoot and just brazenly goes to a Voodoo practitioner in town and asks for help, gets a spell/ritual instructions, and just does it. She has no understanding of the ramifications and just balls to the wall plays around with deities and spirits way out of her league with a bizarrely large confidence. Caroline goes toe to toe with Violet (who is actually Mama Cecile) without a second thought. She finds out about the possible Voodoo in the first place by snooping in her employer’s home. Granted I commend her for caring so much about her patient and seriously going above and beyond, even illegally, to get him to safety. This of course fails epicly and she even traps herself in a protective sigil, doing the work for Mama Cecil in their final battle.


A comment at the end perfectly summed up how I had been feeling. When Mama Cecile now inside Caroline’s body and Papa Justify now in Luke’s body are speaking to one another while looking in the mirror and Cecile says something along the lines of, “you promised me a black one this time,” only to have Papa Justify retort that beggars can’t be choosers. They cannot get the Black caregivers to fall enough into the trap and believe the Voodoo enough to switch bodies with them. This summed up my sentiments towards Caroline in that only a naive white girl would do half of the shit she did in this movie that put her in harm's way and ultimately led to her demise.


I enjoy this type of witchcraft tale in that I’m not fully on one side or another. I see what Cecile and Justify are doing and have an even greater empathy due to the circumstances they sought to escape through their rituals. I also found Caroline to not always be a likable character, making it easier to rationalize with both sides.


Most of the movie is psychological and supernatural with limited jump scares despite scary things happening throughout. I feel this is one of the early 2000s films that isn’t commended for being as good as it is enough of the time. It’s an interesting watch that spells the story out for you just enough that you’re not confused at the end but still have to piece some details together to understand the depth of how fucked up the situation is.