Asif Akbar’s Skeletons in the Closet is a religious horror film that is more jumbled than jumpy, despite the efforts of its committed cast.
There are lofty ambitions, and then there’s what director Asif Akbar seemingly has for Skeletons in the Closet. It feels like the film is simultaneously a religious horror film that refuses to dive particularly deep into any religion, a family drama with a familial unit so bafflingly awkward around each other, and a vehicle for some questionable CGI and the liveliest scarecrow this side of Oz. It’s overall a jumble of confusion, and makes one wonder if it is at all what Akbar envisioned in the first place.
Valentina (Valery M. Ortiz) has, quite literally, been haunted by her traumatic past for years. When her daughter Jenny’s (Appy Pratt) health deteriorates and the financial struggles she and husband Mark (Terrence Howard) have in the face of her diagnosis feel insurmountable, Valentina feels let down by her faith. Tormented by strange visions, Valentina seeks guidance from a less divine ‘higher power’, and must confront the terrifying truth about the spirit she has carried with her since childhood in order to save Jenny’s life.
Skeletons in the Closet is, ostensibly, a religious horror film. But for a section of its second act it seems to forget that little detail, choosing instead to lean much more heavily on gangster flick clichés. There’s a dodgy money deal, some intimidating background goons, and a motif about ‘fishing’ that borders on ridiculous. It’s such a strange turn of events in a film full of them, but this one brings the film off the rails in a way that it never really recovers from.
Cuba Gooding Jr.’s presence, as Mark’s ex-con brother Andres, feels – much like said ‘gangster’ subplot – utterly superfluous to the horror part of this horror film. It could have been cut entirely with zero impact to the crux of the film itself. In fact, Akbar’s whole film feels stilted and, honestly, a bit of a mess. Almost like it’s a soup that has had too many cooks fiddle with its recipe, or been edited down to the barest of bones until there is zero tension, buildup or satisfaction to be found in the cheap scares it does sprinkle in.
Character motivations are so muddled it’s difficult to tell what on earth is actually going on at some points, the dialogue is incredibly clunky, and the performances swing wildly from bland to hysteric in a manner that makes no sense. It’s ultimately an incredibly frustrating watch, because there is a decent enough idea at its core – even if it’s not particularly groundbreaking, and it feels like Akbar could have scraped together something much more enjoyable had the fat been trimmed more selectively.
Skeletons in the Closet is probably best treated like its titular monsters, unfortunately, and left well enough alone.
Skeletons in the Closet will be available to stream on Shudder from February 9, 2024.