Most people agree that The Skeleton Key (2005) is a decent horror movie. Ehren Kreuger wrote an average horror story with an above-average twist. Director Iain Softley did a good job. The movie has good scares, I don’t have any complaints. I recommend this movie to people all the time as one of the best executed twist endings in a horror movie.
We are in the midst of a major horror movie genre revival coupled with unprecedented real life horror in our daily lives.
We are spending every day worrying about Coronavirus, living through a civil rights movement, and (almost) fresh from having a cult-leader running our country. Media made before the pandemic just doesn’t feel that horrifying anymore. We deserve to be rewarded for our endurance through all of this with a freshly terrifying take on an old classic (is there anything better?), especially if we can get someone as adept as Jordan Peele to helm the project and turn it into something really special.
If you haven’t seen it, The Skeleton Key is about a woman named Caroline (Kate Hudson) who finds a job in rural Louisiana as a live-in care worker for an elderly man who has just suffered a stroke that renders him unable to speak. She is hired by the man’s wife and moves into the couple’s plantation home. Now living deep in the bayou, the woman learns about a local version of voodoo magic called “hoodoo” and begins to suspect her employer might be using it against her and the man she is tasked with protecting.
In a twist ending, it is revealed that Caroline’s employer is in fact a hoodoo practitioner. She’s also almost a hundred years old, formerly worked on the plantation as a servant, and has survived with her husband by switching bodies with someone younger every few decades. In this case the husband has already stolen the body of the couple’s lawyer and they plan for the woman to take the body of Caroline.
Here’s the original trailer:
First of all, the whole movie takes place in an antebellum plantation home and this is barely talked about. I understand I’m a northerner but my first thought when I see a plantation home is that it was built by people who were enslaved and used as a slavery compound. Do you want to live in a haunted house full of angry spirits? Because I’m pretty sure moving into a plantation home is the #1 way to do that. The Skeleton Key used the same plantation 12 Years a Slave was filmed at. It’s a real place and you can look up a list of people who were actually enslaved there.
In 2020, The Skeleton Key feels like a story about race that never actually talks about race. In part, that’s just not the story Ehren Kreuger wrote. It’s also not a reality he has lived. That’s okay. But I feel like we’ve collectively moved on. Imagine what The Skeleton Key would be like coming from someone comfortable talking about racism and slavery who also happens to be a talented writer and filmmaker? What would the story be like if it was written for an audience in the post George Floyd and Breonna Taylor world? What if the story told on the screen looked more like the world the way it actually is, where race is a part of the conversation when you are doing something like going to live at a house with a gruesome genocidal history?
One of the signifiers of good horror is that it explores something you thought you knew and makes you afraid of it. Have you ever driven past a corn field after seeing Children of the Corn or seen a TV turn to fuzz after a viewing of The Ring? A good sequel or franchise movie does this by going back to the origin story and revealing something that changes the way we think. Sometimes it shuffles the deck between who we think are the good guys and who is the villain. A good remake does this too. An expert remake, say at hands of a genre-tested and proven horror mind like Jordan Peele could explore the horrors of the original Skeleton Key story that were left untouched by the original writer and director and more.
Consider the whole wide unexplored world of Hurricane Katrina horror. We’ve never had a mainstream movie that could explain to people who weren’t there the horror of the U.S. government’s slow and racist response to Hurricane Katrina. Families were wading through cemeteries to keep their loved ones’ bodies from floating away. Why isn’t there a good horror movie about it? We need a movie (whether it’s this one or another one) to do for our cultural understanding of Hurricane Katrina what Candyman did for housing projects in Chicago. Even if the original story from The Skeleton Key was simply retold with Peele’s capacity for storytelling, it would be a gift.
I haven’t gone on about Jordan Peele’s pedigree here because I think I speak for a lot of the horror community when I say I trust him to make horror that’s unnerving and scary AND actually about something. But, in case there are any haters still reading, Peele wrote, directed, acted in, and produced Get Out 2015) which is probably the most interesting horror movie that has been made in the last two decades. He also wrote and directed Us (2019), wrote the to-be-released Candyman remake, wrote and produced new Twilight Zone episodes, and is executive producing Lovecraft Country for HBO. The man was born for this.
Whenever there is a conversation about remakes there are detractors who say everything is a remake of a remake and we need fresh ideas in the genre. I agree! But I have also had a very hard year and I would please like some cool horror that helps me process what is going on in the world. This is my open plea for whomever it may concern to give Jordan Peele the keys to the kingdom and hope he has enough time to dream up something creepy for us.