The Skeleton Key (2005) Ending Explained – What really happened on the night of the party?

The Skeleton Key Plot Summary

The Skeleton Key is a 2005 supernatural horror movie set in Louisiana. Kate Hudson plays Caroline Ellis, a sweet, young nursing student who seeks service with an elderly couple, Ben and Violet Devereaux in an isolated Plantation Estate.

The family lawyer, Luke Marshall (Peter Sarsgaard) introduces her and tells her about Ben Devereaux (John Hurt) who was found in the attic after he had suffered a paralytic stroke; and is now immobile and incommunicable.

As Caroline works at the Plantation Estate, a sprawling estate with a huge mansion and creepy vibes around it, spooky incidents have her looking over her shoulder at every turn.

What is Hoodoo?

On the first day at her job, Caroline is told that there’s a no-mirror policy in the house. Later, she starts to uncover things that are evil such as black magic artefacts in the attic.

Her friend, Jill explains that it is African American black magic called Hoodoo. Unlike Voodoo, which is a religion, brought by African slaves to Haiti, Hoodoo is American folk magic. It’s part African, part European, part Native American. And New Orleans is its home. But Hoodoo is pretty harmless. Since it’s psychological, it can’t hurt you if you don’t believe in it.

What’s the history of the house?

In a flashback 90 years ago, we see a banker named Thorpe, a cruel man of questionable moral values. His slaves include Mama Cecile and Papa Justify and unbeknownst to him, the two are into Hoodoo in the attic that is their room. The couple is famous all through the bayous. They heal the sick and work their magic for the Black folks. But Thorpe only sees them as slaves as he is abusive and works them to the bone.

One night, there is a party with all the big social elites. Suddenly the guests realize that the children are missing and start to look for them. They discover the kids in the attic surrounded by mirrors and black magic symbolisms like circles and candles, and Papa Justify and Mama Cecile in a state of trance. The kids say that they just want to learn Hoodoo but the guests are enraged on seeing, what they construe as devil worship.

So, despite the children’s protests, the two slaves are dragged out, strung and burnt alive. Soon after, the Thorpes’ business goes under and Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe commit suicide. The children live on and finally sell the estate to the Devereaux in 1962.

Mrs. Devereaux (Gena Rowlands) tells Caroline that the ghosts of the servants are still around, and one can see them in mirrors, hence, she has banished all mirrors. She also follows Hoodoo rituals to keep the ghosts away.

How does Caroline try to help Ben?

Caroline feels that Ben is trying to communicate with her as if seeking her help, and realizes that something awful happened to him in the attic. So, she visits a Hoodoo practitioner and seeks her help. When Jill learns of this, she berates Caroline for falling into a superstitious trap.

Caroline argues that she is using psychosomatic treatment to help the old man. According to Mrs. Devereaux, the ghosts of the servants attacked the old man. Though Caroline herself is not superstitious, she says that, if he believes in it, the Hoodoo treatment may help in his recovery.

So, at the next opportune moment, she starts the Hoodoo ritual (after discarding his medicine), and sure enough, without the powerful sedative, the old man comes to life and manages to cry out feebly for help. But before she can probe further, Mrs. Devereaux barges in and kicks her out of the room.

the skeleton key

Is Mrs. Devereaux the villain?

Caroline meets the girl previously employed by the Devereaux — Hallie who says that the house has been nothing but blood and tears. She is not superstitious per se but is convinced, that it is the wife who did this to Ben Devereaux. Caroline says Hoodoo can’t hurt if you don’t believe in it, to which Hallie warns her to get out of there before she gets sucked into it.

Later, Caroline meets with a blind old lady at a remote gas station. The place is filled with charms and Hoodoo artefacts. Caroline enquires about the record called ‘The Conjure of Sacrifice’ (which she had discovered in the attic). The old lady reveals that it is the strongest conjuration of all. That it was apparently discovered by Papa Justify, but he and his wife, Mama Cecile were killed before they could work it.

But it’s never been found. She adds that the Conjure keeps one from dying, by sacrificing somebody and taking the years left. This convinces Caroline that Ben’s life is in danger, and that Mrs. Devereaux is somehow responsible.

Is Luke Marshall involved in Violet Devereaux’s plan?

Luke Marshall, the family lawyer, who got Caroline the job is a soft-spoken, benign-looking man and she tries to seek his help. She goes to his house but soon realizes that the music record playing is the exact retro music that Mrs. Devereaux listens to. Curious, she starts to look around and discovers her own pictures, taken secretly, and also a copy of the serpent ring that she had found in the attic.

Before she can react, Luke comes from behind and knocks her out. Then gagged and bound, Caroline is driven back to the house, where, she realizes that she is the sacrificial lamb. When she comes to, she thinks that Luke is Mrs. Devereaux’s assistant in the dark arts…which is not too far off.

How does Caroline’s guilt help the evil duo in trapping her?

Caroline comes from a broken home. She was raised by her father but as she grew into adolescence, their relationship soured. He disapproved of her life choices and they never spoke. Stubbornness and pride got in the way of their reconciliation and one day, Caroline learnt that her father had died, alone. That broke her. She could never come out of the guilt that her father had died, with no one to care for him.

And so she gets into nursing and dedicates her life to tending to the sick and the dying. Her motto is, ‘no one should die alone’. She chucks her job at the New Orleans Hospice, because she believes, it is too mercenary in attitude. When she takes up her new job, she subconsciously sees her father in the old Ben Devereaux and gets protective of him.

At one point, when she gets spooked after a terrible nightmare, she decides to quit, but she feels sorry for the old man and decides to stay and fight. She wants to protect him.

Luke and Violet then lay an elaborate trap for Caroline. They’ve done their homework and know that they can rely on sweet Caroline’s benevolent and philanthropic nature. They know she’ll never abandon Ben Devereaux. Being a modern girl, Caroline is not superstitious, but they feed her with ghost stories. It piques her curiosity which leads to her discovering the Hoodoo artefacts in the attic

It invokes her protective instincts, brings her into the game, riles her up enough and she goes down the rabbit hole. Soon she starts to believe in Hoodo like visiting a witch doctor or using brick dust on her doorway. It’s all in the mind and Caroline allows her mind to be conquered by the evil duo.

What happens to Caroline in the end?

In Caroline’s case, half-knowledge turns out to be lethal. She fights with all her might and in the process pushes the old lady down the stairs, where Violet breaks her legs. Caroline finally finds herself in the ‘Hoodoo room’, where she uses the rituals to create a protective field around her.

But Mrs. Devereaux, who’s managed to crawl into the room, candidly informs her that the ritual she just performed, actually creates an entrapment field from where she can never leave. Violet then unveils the mirrors and performs her own magic. And their bodies get exchanged. The old lady acquires Caroline’s body and vice-versa. Now Caroline is trapped in the body of the old Mrs. Violet Devereaux with broken legs.

Violet and Luke promptly give Caroline (now in Violet’s body) a powerful sedative. The last sequence is that of the elderly couple – Ben and Caroline being taken away in an ambulance, totally incapacitated and incommunicable.

What really happened on the night of the party?

It turns out, Papa Justify and Mama Cecile actually exchange bodies with the Thorpe kids, Martin and Grace, on the night of the party. Once the guests discover them, they execute the slaves, little knowing that they are actually killing the Thorpe kids (trapped in the servants’ bodies).

In 1962, the duo (as the Thorpe siblings in their 50s) trap the unsuspecting Devereaux couple and exchange their bodies. Soon, the Thorpes siblings conveniently die. About four decades later, Justify (now Ben Devereaux) manages to trap and acquire the body of Luke Marshall. And the original Luke is trapped in the body of Ben, who very conveniently suffers a paralytic stroke and is kept in a constant state of sedation.

Now all they need is a young girl for Mama Cecile (in Violet Devereaux’s ageing body). Thus, earlier on, when Caroline shows Ben a mirror, he reacts violently because he sees the reflection of someone else, not of his true self. 

Why does Mama Cecile initially disapprove of Caroline?

When Caroline first applies for the job, Mama Cecile (in Violet’s body) isn’t too keen on her despite being in need of a young girl’s body. Her first reaction is that Caroline ‘won’t understand her house’; she doesn’t want the body of someone who’s not from the South.

Also, she believes, that Caroline like most modern girls would be ‘marked’ or have tattoos. Cecile, being from an older era, isn’t keen on tattoos. But the biggest problem is that Caroline, being a White woman, wouldn’t believe in Hoodoo. You need a person to believe in Hoodoo for the magic to work.

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