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Louisiana Bayou Serves as Backdrop for New Thriller, <i>The Skeleton Key</i>

Kate Hudson co-stars with veteran actress Gena Rowlands in a new supernatural thriller set in the misty bayou country of southern Louisiana. Alan Silverman has a look at The Skeleton Key.

Hospice worker Caroline learns too late that she should have made the decision to leave almost as soon as she arrived at the run down plantation house on the edge of the bayou. She was hired to care for owner Violet Devereaux's bedridden husband; but, as Caroline tells her friend in New Orleans, something mysterious is going on.

The longer Caroline stays in the house, however, the harder time she has not believing in the power of the magic and the ghostly figures that seem to be there. Of course, in time honored movie thriller tradition, she tiptoes out in the darkened house to investigate strange noises.

And she ventures into the darkened room that she's been told to stay out of.

Kate Hudson says adventurous Caroline is a lot braver, under the circumstances, than she ought to be.

"Which I've done a few times in my life," she notes. "You hear something in your house and all of a sudden you're going after something and you say 'wait.' You find yourself in this totally vulnerable position with some stupid thing in your hand like a candlestick and you're like 'if there's somebody in my house, I'm dead. What am I doing? Why am I approaching this?' It's because your fear makes you overcompensate and then you have to step up to it; but if I were Caroline, I wouldn't even set foot up the stairs to go to the attic," she says.

"I tried to tap into that place where there certain people who are really skeptical and don't believe in these things," adds Hudson. "They're almost so determined not to be fearful that they overcompensate. I tried to look at it like that: Caroline is the type of person who isn't afraid of something like that. There's no reason to be afraid of those kind of things and there's nothing to be afraid of ... until she inevitably realizes how fearful she really is."

Gena Rowlands says she enjoyed getting into the mystery of The Skeleton Key as Violet, the apparently doughty owner of the house.

"It was so different from anything I've done in my life ... and I've been acting a long time," she says. "It intrigued me: the idea of mind-bending, which is part of the theme."

In fact, English-born director Iain Softley says what the characters - and the audience - imagine is going to happen fuels much of the tension in the film.

"We find what we can't see and what we don't know and our anticipation is so much more potent than seeing something straight away," he says. "If you show your hand straight away you sort of demystify it and you can sort of cope with it. This is a supernatural thriller, not a horror film, so it's actually the classic formula for films like that: you lull people into a false sense of security, where everybody knows that sooner or later things are going to become weird around the edges."

So weird, according to star Hudson, that, watching it on screen, she got caught up in the fears.

"It's funny, but it's the first time I've experienced it with a movie that I was in," she says. "When I was watching the movie, I got so totally carried away with it. It's the first time that's really happened to me ... where I caught myself with my popcorn going 'oh! Wait a minute, I'm in this movie and I know where it ends and how it goes, but it's all new.' It was fun."

The Skeleton Key also features Peter Sarsgaard as the seemingly aloof lawyer for the owners of the house. Veteran English actor John Hurt plays Violet's husband who may have suffered a stroke ... or, just maybe, is under a spell that prevents him from speaking.

The Skeleton Key was shot on location in southern Louisiana and the soundtrack is brimming with authentic blues and Dixieland jazz.