Back in 2010 James Wan was on top of the world having recovered from several poor outings in the wake of the ‘Saw” franchise to create another soon-to-be franchise in “Insidious”. Over the past eight years we’ve seen this franchise, and others started by Wan, grow into modern iconic series in the horror genre. Continuing the “Insidious” franchise the fourth entry, “Insidious: The Last Key”, is the first mainstream film with a true 2018 release date and while it offers the same familiar feel and allure of the rest of this paranormal franchise it’s hard to call “The Last Key” anything more than a simple continuation of a series on its last legs. Let’s dig a little deeper into this horror sequel. This is my review of “Insidious: The Last Key”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
“Insidious: The Last Key” takes place after the events of “Insidious: Chapter 3” and prior to the first two chapters and sees parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shayne) and her assistants Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) take on a case at Elise’s childhood home. The film delves into Elise’s past including her abusive father and how Elise’s irresponsible use of her abilities led to her mother’s death. Haunted by her past in the present Elise comes face to face with a new demon known as Key Face (Javier Botet) and works to end the home’s haunt while also realizing how her own actions played into her father’s abuse and the fate of the spirits in the home. In the process Elise also reconnects with her estranged brother and her two nieces (Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard) who also become involved in Elise’s latest case.
When you go into a horror film you don’t really expect the best performances in the world and “Insidious: The Last Key” is no different. The performances are basically just good enough to be convincing with no real outstanding roles to note outside of Lin Shaye who is by far the best performer on screen. Once again she embodies the series’ main protagonist, parapsychologist Elise Rainier, and by now we know this is Shaye’s show. She seems to know it as well, owning her take on Elise once again and carrying this entire project on her shoulders. Elise’s story drives the drama and the plot with her childhood history and ability to detect paranormal beings as a sixth sense being integral to the investigation we see play out. What’s really neat is we have seen Elise evolve over the years and this film truly brings her character full circle, painting a picture of why she became the confident person she was in the first film as well as showing the natural progression of her personality from her return to the paranormal in the third chapter. Shaye, a modern scream queen, does milk her role a bit but not near as much as some of her fellow actors. She’s definitely the best character in this movie and It’s nice to see Shaye owning her position as a horror staple once again.
The rest of the cast is either forgettable or tries way too hard. Angus Sampson and the film’s writer Leigh Whannell return as Elise’s assistants Tucker and Specs and while they certainly seemed to have fun recapturing their eccentric on-screen characters they just try way too hard to be oddballs, maybe even harder than previous installments. At times it even feels like they tried to outshine Elise and other times they feel forced into the action with a few needless extra themes included in the story to try and make them important. Ironically these performances should have been left as more background and supporting characters rather than trying to make an attempt to stress their odd personalities a bit more to force them into relevance.
The two young guns who join the cast are Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard who portray Elise’s nieces Melissa and Imogen respectively. While the trailers made it seem like Melissa would be a major player in the story, Imogen actually gets the honor of being the more involved sister while Melissa is relegated to a victim role to further drive the plot. These performances aren’t really bad per say, but they’re not mind-blowing introductions of the two up-and-comers to anyone who turned out for the film. Like many actress roles it’s clear they both saw the new “Insidious” film as a opportunity to further their careers by getting some exposure to a wider audience and to their credit they’re not horrible, they just don’t feel totally committed. Both do get the chance to show their personalities in these roles and they do eventually become interesting additions to Elise’s legacy. For the most part they don’t feel unwarranted in the story so there are some redeemable aspects of these performances that are worth appreciating.
“Insidious: The Last Key” doesn’t feel like an unnecessary film, even if the franchise is clearly experiencing fatigue. It works as a very natural sequel to the third chapter of the series and even ties into the first two chapters by the end of it all. “The Last Key” might not be very original or revolutionary but it does expand nicely on Elise’s history and the origin of her talents as well as her drive to continue to help people as a paranormal expert. Could we have done without it? Probably, but the way “The Last Key” plays out and the details it adds to the mythology of the series makes it feel more warranted than it initially seemed and fans of the series’ past entries will probably find just as much joy in this film as they did the others.
The film is also pretty creepy. Director Adam Robitel and writer Leigh Whannell might lean a little too heavily on clichés and typical jump scares but they’re effective scares nonetheless. There are times the movie feels like a “Paranormal Activity”-esque horror experience using camera perspectives, dark lighting, and patient setups to drive the movie’s horror concepts. I found myself jumping quite a few times, even if some of those jumps were purely designed to create scares without substance. “The Last Key” isn’t a sophisticated horror film and isn’t quite a creepy as the first three entries, but as far as legitimate jump-inducing scares it’s probably the most effective of the franchise and, lets face it, that’s what many horror fans wanted from this sequel in the end. It was uncomfortable and suspenseful making it surprisingly effective so if you’re seeking a movie with easy scares that do the job well this film offers that in bunches.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
“The Last Key” loses its luster at the halfway point as Elise’s reconciling with her brother and the involvement of her nieces feels shoehorned in and the rest of the film just kind stalls from there. As the second act ends and the third act begins there’s really nothing that drives the plot further other than what we already saw and even the time in The Further feels summarized at best. “The Last Key” clearly survives off of its easy scares and the familiarity the audience probably has with the first three chapters settling for an uninspired central story while its brighter points that add to Elise’s legacy actually surround the main conflict and outshine her face-off with Key Face.
Speaking of Key Face, he was a bit underwhelming as well. The “Insidious” series has presented us with some very intriguing characters and some spooky creature designs by aside from his key hand Key Face really doesn’t shine as a spooky or creative antagonists. Key Face is very rarely featured in the plot, usually blamed for his influence on others and only physically arriving at the very end of the film with his standoff with Elise being extremely short. There’s little to make him memorable and intimidating outside of his design which doesn’t go much farther than a unique mouth shape and a hand of keys to match the film’s title. He’s just not scary and he’s not as original as previous antagonists. For the main villain of an established series who drives the haunting in this film that’s unacceptable for me.
The final negative is the film’s conclusion, which is due to all the factors listed above. Key Face is forgettable and the final act is short and sweet making the film’s ending, which had the potential for epicness, feel predictable and bland. We already know what’s going to happen and it happens fast and even an attempt to shoehorn in a deeper moral lesson through Elise falls flat. Not to mention a lot of the creepy promises made about the film’s journey into The Further in the trailer don’t come to fruition. Not to spoil anything but those strange monsters we see stepping out of cages and then saying “this way” (like the one shown above)…yeah they were cut from the film. So, the expansive world of The Further we’ve seen in the past is reduced to a small, simple, and forgettable otherworld that lacks the same mysterious atmosphere that made it one of the most fascinating aspects of the series from day one.
“Insidious: The Last Key” is no work of art and yes it shows some fatigue in this modern classic horror series, but there are aspects of the film that make it feel warranted and even necessary to possibly complete the franchise and bring Elise’s story full circle. It does offer effective, if simple, scares and a passable performance by Lin Shayne, but it also features some severe cases of overacting or underacting, and its conclusion falls short of expectations in a big way. Not to mention it’s central antagonist, Key Face, fails to offer anything worth enjoying. To say I didn’t have fun watching “The Last Key” would be an outright lie, but to say it was more fun than any of the other three film in the series would also be false. In fact, I’d say it’s probably the worst of the four in the big picture. “The Last Key” offers just enough to entertain those familiar with the series and genre, but not nearly enough to standout as anything original or memorable on its own. On one hand it’s an acceptable entry in a fun franchise, but on the other it’s a typical horror movie that leans on all the clichés you can count and does nothing to set itself apart from the pack.