Monday, June 27, 2005

Tagline of the Week: Courtesy of The Skeleton Key

“Once you believe, everything you fear, becomes real.”

Not exactly the most novel concept for a horror film, though one which could still be explored in an original way if done properly.

I saw this trailer for the first time on Friday, when I went to see Land of the Dead, but have since watched it a couple more times online. The trailer plays significantly better in the movie house, mostly because of the sound quality. What scares me most in this trailer is the soundtrack, not the images.

The trailer starts out sort of foolishly, with that whole “In a world….” approach. In this case it’s “In a world, where people practice voodoo….strange things happen.”

Gee whiz, well slap my knee, and call me Sally, really?!

The way they put together that first montage with the slow-mo and the close-ups of seniors writhing and dancing is not so much creepy as it is silly. I mean is that voiceover really necessary? Also the final shot in the sequence where the old lady squirts water out of her mouth reminds me of the old woman from The Others. I expect her to finish spitting out the water and say:

“Are you mad? I am your daughter!”

Why the marketing folks at Uni felt the need to set up Voodoo (as if no one has heard of it before), I’m not sure, but the trailer continues on in typical horror film fashion. We are introduced to Kate Hudson’s character, Caroline, a young woman looking for a new job. Of course the one she finds is at a big creepy house, where she is to take care of an ailing old man who is mysterious AND bedridden, blah, blah, blah.

I guess Kate Hudson is ok, she’s cute and has good screen presence, but I’ve never been blown away by any of her performances. (No, not even by her role in How to Loose a guy in 10 Days, a movie which made me long for the easy agonies of The Chinese Water torture)

Peter Sarsgaard’s appearance in the trailer is a good omen at least. Though he’s only in a couple snippets of the trailer, I’m hoping he has a substantial role in the film. I think he’s a fantastic actor, who is very versatile and enjoyable to watch.

The moment when the trailer begins to pique my interest ever so slightly, is not when her patient Ben, suddenly grabs her arm, (though it is obviously framed to cause a big jump) but rather, when it starts to get into the “rules” of Voodoo. The line of brick dust laid out in front of a doorway, as a way to both protect oneself, and discover one’s enemies was intriguing to me. I like horror movies that are constructed like mysteries, where they create all sorts of rules, and regulations that you know will either be broken later on, or tip you off to something bigger. For as much as I made fun of the opening of the trailer, I’m actually drawn to the idea that the film is set within the Voodoo culture. I can’t recall a movie recently that has dealt with it, and the fact that it’s in the Bayou, feels like an original setting.

{On a side note, I already have a feeling that the trailer has shown too much of the film, i.e. that shot that shows the patient’s wife, played by Gena Rowlands, unable to cross the line of brick dust that Caroline has laid out.}

The trailer then proceeds to show more generic creepy fair. Caroline gets hold of a skeleton key, and finds a room in the attic that has all sorts of Voodoo tools. Disturbing photographs, locks of hair, bottles of God knows what. More quick cuts, of her patient Ben, being scared, and various locals warning her to get the heck out of Dodge.

Then Caroline plays the record. A 12” she found in the attic with the other bizarre items, the record is in a tattered paper sleeve with handwriting on it that says “Papa justify’s conjure of sacrifice.”

The screen fades to black as we hear the first few seconds of the record play. Several distorted voices, both men and women cry out at once:

“We’ve been waiting for you Caroline.”

I think I actually winced in the theatre when I heard this. And like I said before, when you’re in a theatre that’s pitch black, and you hear that line in surround sound audio, all of the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up.

Not only are the actual sounds and chanting that come from the old record unsettling and eerie, but I personally found the whole concept to be pretty terrifying. The idea that she plays this record, expecting to hear some old recording of a speech or a musical performance, and instead is greeted by spirits who use her name is horrifying. I have often thought to myself in the wee hours of the morning: What if I burned this CD, and when I checked to make sure it worked, I heard something completely different than what I intended to copy? Like a demonic voice saying my name for instance? That **** is not cool.

After she listens to the record everything seems to go to pot, and as more and more inexplicable things occur, Caroline is tempted to “believe” and in turn seal her fate.

I’ve gotten so jazzed about various horror films in the past year, only to be let down fairly consistently, so I don’t exactly have high hopes for this one. I’ll go see it of course, but I’m wary of another shoddy plot, with little time devoted to character development, strung together by a series of haunted house scares that fail to deliver more than half of the time.

The director of The Skeleton Key, Iain Softley, has a curious resume. His last film was the Kevin Spacey vehicle, K-PAX which was released in ’01. Before that he did a direct to video compilation of Toni Braxton performances, and before that he did the Merchant-Ivory The Wings of the Dove (or as I fondly referred to it, The Wings of a Chick Flick) The film of his that I’m most familiar with (embarrassingly enough) is the 1995 Hackers, starring Angelina Jolie, Johnny Lee Miller, and Matthew Lillard. That movie is obviously ridiculous and foolish, but I get small guilty pleasures out of it nonetheless. Softley has demonstrated a wide range in his career, though I don’t really see the stylistic trademarks that I look for in Horror film directors, so I’m intrigued to see how he’ll do with this. As for writer Ehren Kruger, who came up in my Brothers Grimm preview review, - the guy is hot to trott in Hollywood right now, there’s no doubt about that. He was given the much coveted John Carter of Mars project, has two movies coming out this summer, and two others in production. However, just because he is rolling in the dough, doesn’t mean he hasn’t fallen off the wagon. In my opinion, he has much penance to pay for The Ring 2.

In conclusion I await The Skeleton Key with much of the same feeling that I did when I expected the tooth fairy as a child. That all the blood was not in vain, and I’m going to get my money’s worth.

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