Insidious: The Last Key, 2018.
Directed by Adam Robitel.
Starring Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, Kirk Acevedo, Javier Botet, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Hana Hayes, Marcus Henderson, Rose Byrne, and Patrick Wilson.
Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home.
At this point, all I remember about the Insidious franchise are two things: how overrated they are overusing a demon that resembles Darth Maul’s mentally challenged relative as the main source for ineffective scares, and Lin Shaye’s elderly ghostbusting, one-liner wisecracking, courageous Dr. Elise Rainier typically stealing the show from Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Up until Insidious: The Last Key none of the installments has been outright terrible, but writer (and characters creator) Leigh Whannell (most known for collaborating with director James Wan on the first two entries and playing one of the lead roles in Saw, the project that blew opportunities wide open for both filmmakers) is running low on terrorizing material by stretching Elise’s prequel story past its expiration date.
Sophomore director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) and the aforementioned screenwriter Leigh Whannell take audiences to Elise’s early childhood growing up in 1950s New Mexico surrounded by a penitentiary and under the parental guardianship of her father who works there. He is a close-minded, bullheaded man objecting to the possibility of Elise telling the truth regarding her powers of communicating with spirits, so much so that he becomes physically abusive to both her and his wife. During these sadly all too common fits of rage, he utters the ridiculous line “Don’t tell me how to punish my daughter, this is what I do for a living”, and in that early scene it’s pretty much summed up the experience will result in fits of cringe for viewers.
To be fair, the child acting from Ava Kolker and Hana Hayes (the outstanding young voice acting from one of the best video games of the decade The Last of Us deservedly in a few scenes as an even further traumatized teenage Elise) is serviceable, properly selling the domestic violence and supernatural engagements. Truthfully, one has to wonder if Insidious: The Last Key would have benefited from exclusively sticking to a young Elise growing up learning her abilities while surrounded by mental and physical abuse, especially considering the dynamic with her brother that comes across weak during their present-day reunion. As I will get to explain, the film tends to skirt all over the place with little focus on any plot or overarching theme.
Instead, Insidious: The Last Key centers on the parapsychologist accepting a job (but also initially hesitating) from a disturbed individual (Kirk Acevedo) who now lives in her childhood home, and not so surprisingly wants it exercised of all evil. Specifically, the hauntings involve the mysterious red door seen in the Further during Chapter 3 (this is a direct sequel to that prequel) and a grotesquely designed Keyface demon played to perfection by the long and slender master of the art Javier Botet accompanied by impressive practical effects. The jump scares are strong in numbers and annoyingly telegraphed, but it’s difficult to deny that looking at ghastly oversized fingernails punctuated by antiquated looking keys or a brutally caved in facial deformation won’t make people squirm in their seat. Continuing what has become tradition, the climax allows Lin Shaye to deliver a memorable defiant quote here and there to the spirit making for cheesy, fun thrills (although I did laugh very hard at the finishing blow which probably was not intended).
Regardless, the script definitely once again is peppered with comedic relief from Elise’s two sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) with hit-or-miss jokes self-aware of the lameness of not necessarily ghost hunting, but the type of TV personalities that make a living off of the hobby. Awkwardly, they romantically pursue Elise’s nieces (the men are definitely creepily at least twice her age) as a worthless subplot, but their commitment and delivery to the lines are mostly funny. They are once again dimwitted, dorky, and in a bizarre way extremely likable, but the forced love needs to go (one of them even plants a kiss despite the girl showing no interest whatsoever). Stick to mimicking E.T with paranormal technology, please. The worst part of all of this is that any attempt at bonding between Elise and her estranged nieces suffers.
Either way, the most prominent reason Insidious: The Last Key is the first dud in the franchise is its lack of direction. There is an absolutely awful twist around halfway through the film that is quickly swept under the rug (it feels as if Leigh Whannell wrote himself into a corner and just took the easy way out). Soon after that toward the end of the movie, there is yet another swerve, this one far more ridiculous and unbelievable than its predecessor. And by that revelation, it’s difficult to care how any of this ties into the rest of Elise’s life or the first two Insidious movies. Attempting the laziest form of scares possible doesn’t help anything.
The experiment of granting Elise front and center attention has worn thin despite reliable performances from Lin Shaye. It’s time for a new direction (no, not a solo film focusing on the paranormal equivalent of Dumb and Dumber), but rather one that brings back real horror and a sense of danger; let’s face it, no one important dies in prequels, so it’s all rather pointless if the story doesn’t bring anything good to the table.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com