Picks and Pans Review: The Skeleton Key

UPDATED 08/22/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 08/22/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

Kate Hudson, Gena Rowlands, Peter Sarsgaard, John Hurt
SUSPENSE

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Those looking for relief from August's humidity won't find it watching this undistinguished supernatural thriller. The Skeleton Key is set deep in a Louisiana bayou, where the land surrounding a possibly haunted mansion is swampy and the air muggy, leaving characters continually covered in a sheen of sweat.

Perspiring the most profusely, with good reason, is Caroline Ellis (Hudson, no better than she has to be), a hospice worker who takes a job at the mansion caring for an elderly stroke patient (Hurt). She soon discovers a locked room in the attic that may contain the secret—as in who do that voodoo?—to the spooky goings-on at the house.

To its credit Key offers a neat final twist, but the rest alternates between tedious and downright silly. Rowlands has fun chewing scenery as Hurt's controlling wife, and Sarsgaard, as a lawyer, swelters suavely. (PG-13)

DOCUMENTARY
Grizzly Man
CRITIC'S CHOICE

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Wildlife protection rules require humans to keep at least 100 yards between themselves and brown grizzly bears. Timothy Treadwell, a self-declared grizzly expert and preservationist who spent 13 summers in Alaska observing the bears, broke the rules daily. He'd go right up to the bears, stroke their fur and mutter soothingly, like a Mr. Rogers-of-the-wild, "I love you. I do. I do. I do." In 2003 one of those bears mauled Treadwell to death.

In an astonishing documentary, German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo) tells the story of the boyish Treadwell—before developing his passion for grizzlies, he was a failed actor with a drinking-and-drug problem—using footage Treadwell himself shot during his five final summers. Interviews with an ex-girlfriend, pals and bear experts help build a more complete portrait.

Herzog is drawn to Treadwell, recognizing him as a fellow obsessive. But he contends that Treadwell fatally romanticized the bears. Treadwell, gazing deep into the eyes of a grizzly, ascribed human feelings to it. Herzog, showing Tread-well's footage of the bear who likely killed him, says he himself sees "only the overwhelming blank stare of the bear." (R)

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