INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY opens no new doors, but still thrills
By the time you reach the fourth installment in a franchise like Insidious, it starts feeling a bit shabby. It’s like a treehouse you just couldn’t wait to chill in when you were a kid, but now seems outdated and insignificant. You’re happy to see the place, and the old blankets and piles of magazines are welcoming and comfortable but the structure feels less than sturdy, and you can’t ignore the unsettling creak every time the wind blows.
The Insidious movies have been nothing but comfortable and refreshing, even if the dialog can be wordy and the monologues lengthy; Blumhouse Productions loves to give not just scares but a solid story so you can understand everyone’s motivations for the off the wall ridiculous stuff they do. Like the Saw franchise, Insidious is circular, folding back on itself to give a fuller picture of the players.
In “present day” 2010, Elise (Lin Shaye) is called back to Five Keys, NM to investigate the paranormal activity still occurring in the house she grew up in. A survivor of childhood abuse, Elise is reluctant to go back to a place she fled as a teenager, but her sense of duty is too strong to allow her to walk away. The current owner (Kirk Acevedo) is troubled by the constant sounds coming from Elise’s childhood bedroom and can’t afford to lose the house if it’s unlivable. Elise, with reformed scammer demonologists Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) incomprehensively dressed like Mormons and going full creeper with Elise’s nieces, try to use their crazy science with her natural abilities to unravel a generations-old hinting in the shadow of a state prison. Elise is sturdy and determined, even if it’s not at all what she wants to be doing. Tucker and Specs have lost some of their purpose, mostly reduced to comic relief, and much like the motto Tucker is forcing on everyone who will listen, “She’s psychic, we’re sidekicks” it’s just not that entertaining. Tucker’s gadgets aren’t quite working and there isn’t any of Spec’s artistic “sight” drawing.
As I write this up and try to dissect the bits from the minutia, it occurs to me that this treehouse is far less stable than I imagined. This is me backing towards the moldy rope swing slow and carefully. There is a Bad Ghost, and few other ghosts, a backstory, a few serial killers, all in, an attempt to ground the Insidious franchise into some sort of reality – which means there’s less unreality. More flesh and blood horror with far less Further, which is what separated Insidious from other paranormal horror movies. This movie also calls into question Elise’s “talent” and a stark inability to distinguish physical from incorporeal.
For everything we learn about some characters, we get absolutely nowhere with the overall story. Whether this is the fault of some unpolished plot points by series writer, Leigh Whannell or an inexperienced director in Adam Robitel is debatable. In my opinion, producer James Wan probably should have Robitel write this as a follow-up to The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014). Whannell sits this one out, but the fourth movie should be an invigorating refresh, not a loop backward.
There’s a lot of monologuing here, and Elise explains a lot of the same plot points over and over (we’ll blame Whannell for that) and more jump scares than palpable dread (that’s Robitel’s fault). There’s character misdirection (sloppy writing) and uneven pacing (sloppy directing). I’m not panning this movie, I’m just resetting the bar to a more believable level. What the trailers promise (a pretty girl with her throat turned off – BUT WHY) and what’s delivered (a story of abuse survival and a bunch of excuses) may be disapopinting. You can absolutely enjoy Insidious: The Last Key, just don’t think about too much.
Insidious: The Last Key is rated PG-13 for child caning, abusive parents, violence against women, swears, supernatural jump scares, and Tucker and Specs running neck and neck for Creeper of The Year.