‘The Watcher/The Skeleton Key’ Blu-Ray Review

The Watcher (2000)

​​David Allen Griffin is a cool killer- time and time again, he chooses a female victim, studies her for weeks till he knows her routine to the smallest detail, makes meticulous preparations using his forensic knowledge to gain entry when she’s quite alone, subdues her and administers a long, torturous death. Joel Campbell got so frustrated by his failure to capture Griffin in Los Angeles, that he quit the FBI, moved to Chicago, and remains in psychiatric therapy, unable to function normally. Then he realizes, when opening his mail very late, that a new murder victim is Griffin’s, and the killer sent him pictures of her. Campbell reports this to the police, but is unwilling to join them in the search, suggesting Griffin is too slick and clever; yet he won’t get out of it that easily.

When you read some of the history behind The Watcher, you start to understand why it is not a very good film. Keanu Reeves is often criticized for his limited range, but in the right role he knows how to turn it on if he wants to. He really did not want to be in The Watcher. The only reason he even appears in the film is due a “friend” forging his signature on a contract. Sure, Reeves probably could have gotten out of it if he desperately wanted to, but the prospect of lengthy legal battle seemed worse than appearing in a film with a script he deemed terrible. After coming to terms with Universal Pictures on how his role would be handled and other financial details, Reeves reluctantly appeared in the film with many scenes being performed by a stunt double to limit his time spent shooting. Reeves did not want to be in the film, and it shows all over his face in the film.

Even excluding the phoned-in performance from Reeves, the remainder of the movie is not very good. Director Joe Charbanic does not appear to have any idea of how to go about making a visually compelling film with even the basics such as depth and composition ranking as amateurish. The editing of the film is often incomprehensible, but the breakneck pace of the narrative at least allows the film to not waste too much of your time. The film rarely takes a moment to breathe, hoping to mentally exhaust you before it can bore you. You do have to admire the effort being put forth by James Spader (Crash), a man who completely commits to the screenplay way more than is necessary. His base-level crazed demeanor gives the film a sense of unintentional fun that will keep you entertained. The film is not good, but it is quite fascinating due to its laundry list of missteps.

The Skeleton Key (2005)

Nurse Caroline Ellis quits her job to take care of elderly Ben Devereux who had a stroke and can’t talk. When she gets to his house in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana, she meets Ben’s wife Violet, who acts suspicious and creepy. The family’s lawyer, Luke Marshall, convinces Caroline to stay. She goes to the attic and finds a secret room there full of spells, hair, and bones used to practice Hoodoo, but Violet says she has never seen this secret room. Caroline wants to help Ben, thinking that Violet has put a spell on him. She knows Hoodoo can’t hurt someone who doesn’t believe in it. Can Caroline save Ben, or will she end up being the one who needs to be saved?

The Skeleton Key has always been a film that has managed to maintain its creepy factor every time it is revisited. One of the strongest aspects of the film is the Louisiana setting, which evokes an old-school mysticism unsettling due to its unfamiliarity to the world at large. At the same time, the setting allows for a cutting satire of the racism that is still alive and well in many parts of the country. As a southerner, I can confidently say the cliches are piled on high, but when you contextualize the film as a greatest hits of horror tropes you come to find appreciation in various tiny aspects. There is something comforting about the expected scares that the film delivers, and the final twist that the story leaves you with is the type that lingers on your mind due to the ramifications. This is a narrative that excels more in its suspense more than anything truly terrifying.

It also helps that this story is told with the help of some incredibly gifted performers. While the script does not give them some of the A-list material that suits them best, each of the key players elevate their roles. Kate Hudson (Almost Famous) makes you care about whether or not Caroline gets out of this increasingly perilous situation. Gena Rowlands (The Notebook) steals the film from her, though, as the deliciously insidious Violet. There are certain lines uttered by Rowlands which would have landed with a thud in the hands of a lesser performer. John Hurt (V For Vendetta) is also quite good, but for obvious reasons after viewing the film you will understand that he has less showcase moments. The Skeleton Key has never been a film talked about with great fondness, but we have always found it to be a tightly plotted, well-acted little thriller with enough spine-tingling moments to keep us happy.

Video Quality

These two titles are included on a single Blu-Ray disc courtesy of Mill Creek Entertainment with older 1080p masters that result in a passably pleasant transfer. These films were previously released separately by Universal, and by only reading about those discs it appears these transfers are pretty close to what those discs offered. The basic masters are in decent but not excellent shape which keeps either of these films from wowing on the format. Compression artifacts are not a persistent issue despite the films sharing a disc. The transfer provides a fleeting amount of natural film grain, but some of it seems to have been scrubbed away. These transfers present with only the occasional specks of damage or other subtle digital anomalies. The colors feel the slightest bit subdued which keeps the films from popping in a visually exciting way. Skin tones look natural, and the presentation offers up some fairly solid black levels. The disc shows off some strong details in the production design in most instances, but there are moments of softness present in some shots. Mill Creek Entertainment has provided good transfers for those who are looking for a value-packaged offering.

Audio Quality

This new Blu-Ray set comes with a lossless DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix for both films that are better than the video presentation in terms of quality. The dialogue holds up very well, coming though clearly without being stepped on by the score or sound effects. The environmental effects are subtle but appreciated in the presentation. These tracks do not exhibit major instances of age related wear and tear or distortion. The surround channels help the film feel conjure a more menacing atmosphere, which complements the general tone of the films. These are not the most dynamic tracks you have ever heard, but they bring each film to life in an accurate manner. Optional English subtitles are provided on this disc.

Special Features

There are no special features included on this disc.

Final Thoughts

These two thrillers from Universal are entertaining in different ways. The Skeleton Key provides some genuine chills and solid performances, while The Watcher offers an almost so-bad-it’s-good viewing experience. Neither are masterpieces of cinema, but they have their charms. Mill Creek Entertainment has provided a value-priced Blu-Ray featuring a decent A/V presentation but nothing in the way of special features. If you do not have either of these titles and are looking for a cheap entryway, this disc is not a bad option.

The Watcher/The Skeleton Key is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Mill Creek Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.