Set in a crumbling Louisiana plantation house, Iain Softley’s effectively low-key psychological thriller draws upon the local traditions of Hoodoo, black magic and witchcraft. Luring us into that hinterland where the solid ground of reason leaches into the treacherous swamp of superstitious belief, the insidious script by Ehren Kruger (‘The Ring’) seeps into our unconscious. Like the film’s young heroine, we are forced to question the evidence of our senses, our ability to rationalise the inexplicable. Are we witnessing mischievous mind-games, mystical mumbo jumbo or frightening fact? ‘Almost Famous’ star Kate Hudson reveals her more serious side as Caroline Ellis, a sensible hospice nurse employed to care for the Devereaux mansion’s stroke-paralysed owner, Ben (John Hurt). As soon as she arrives, Caroline is thrown off-balance by the creepy atmosphere that pervades the house, and by Ben’s prickly, overprotective wife, Violet (Gena Rowlands), who drip-feeds hints about restless spirits that must be contained. Not even the Devereauxs’ rational estate lawyer, Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard), can explain away Caroline’s discovery of a locked attic room stuffed with mirrors and Hoodoo paraphernalia. Kruger’s script for ‘The Ring’ remake replaced the unsettling subtleties of the Japanese original with multiplex-friendly jumps and scares. ‘The Skeleton Key’, by contrast, unfolds slowly, keeping us guessing for almost three-quarters of the movie. Softley’s confident direction is skilfully calibrated to extract the maximum suspense, and the strong dramatic performances fuse seamlessly with John Beard’s atmospheric production design, Dan Mindel’s almost monochromatic cinematography and Edward Shearmur’s Southern-flavoured score. Nothing is forced, least of all a sly ending that bubbles up from beneath the film’s shimmering surface.