By Jack Dignan
The Insidious movies have always been a lot of fun. They are for this generation as Friday the 13th was for teens in the 80s. I was going to use A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween for that analogy, but those franchises are better suited to the likes of The Conjuring films. But, still, the Insidious movies stand on their own right, plus they’ve been around longer, exploring their own mythology in new, interesting and terrifying ways for three films now, all leading up to the fourth and perhaps final installment, Insidious: The Last Key.
The story of the Lambert family came to a close with Insidious: Chapter 2, the third installment taking us back to a case earlier on in the career of famed parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye), as well as her two sidekicks of sorts, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Simpson). The Last Key picks up shortly after Chapter 3, where Elise, just shy of taking on her infamous final case, receives a chilling phone call from a pleading owner (Kirk Acevedo) of a haunter house. And this house just so happens to be the same one she once called her own, back when she was just a child.
It’s a much more personal story for Elise. She’s forced to confront not just the demons that have manifested within her old home, but ones of her earlier life, that she’s managed to bury deep within her. Insidious: The Last Key isn’t just your run of the mill horror film, where they’re forced to investigate a series of strange occurrences all before a big finale. In fact, the actual investigation takes up less than half the film’s runtime, which, in a lot of ways, I respect. It allows for stronger characterization of Elise. She develops and evolves into a stronger, more fully realised person.
Her past is dark and twisted, as made evident through an opening prologue, which manages to be one of the more frightening sequences. A lot of the acting is… well… bad, but the scares are effective. As an older Elise then goes back and unravels the truth behind this situation, however, a lot of the fear is removed, falling into the trap the second film fell into where they over-explain the plot to the point where it’s no longer scary. Once they do move beyond the exploration of this haunted house, everything from there on out becomes somewhat of a convoluted mess.
The set design is certainly unsettling, and the lead performances are, as always, great, with Leigh Whannell and Angus Simpson once again stealing the show. Where this film’s main problems lie are within the story it then tries to tell. Whannell’s script attempts to do something different, and a lot of the ideas he uses I enjoyed, but their execution is often sub-par. His plot evolves from a paranormal entity to a more physical, real-world villain, all before moving back to the realm of the supernatural. When it does become more real world focused, it lost me.
During this extended sequence, the scares are often undermined by the truth, never as interesting or freighting as earlier sequences were. A mysterious key-fingered villain is set up well, but then forgotten about for most of the runtime. There’s more subplots at play here than an actual plot, forcing tie-ins to the other films left, right and centre. It all becomes lost within its own world, unable to escape and failing to deliver on any effective scares. One moment involving a briefcase got me good, but, even then, it’s a scare you’ll see coming a mile away.
Sadly, Insidious: The Last Key is a mostly forgettable horror sequel that really only feels like it exists for the money, but for devoted horror fiends, it’s not the worst way to spend a Friday night. We’re probably not going to get 10 of these movies, like we do with so many other horror franchises, but that’s okay. I love the first Insidious. In fact, for the most part, the whole trilogy is enjoyable, but it’s running on fumes now. The story is over. The past is behind us. Let’s leave it be. Besides, we have a whole Conjuring cinematic universe to look forward to, and I’m strangely excited for what’s to come.
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