Insidious: The Last Key, 2018.
Directed by Adam Robitel.
Starring Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Caitlin Gerard, and Ava Kolker.
Parapsychologist Elise Rainier if forced to confront her past when she is called back to the house where she grew up to take on the ghosts that still reside there.
This is starting to get a bit confusing now as not only was James Wan responsible for the hugely successful The Conjuring franchise and its ever-increasing offshoots but before that he was responsible for kickstarting the Insidious series which, some may argue, is a more tempting well to keep drawing from than the semi-fictional exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren. However, four films in, Wan is no longer directing and the timeline has gone to pot, with 2015’s Insidious: Chapter 3 acting as a prequel to the first two movies and now Insidious: The Last Key (which it won’t be) being a sequel to part three, still making it a prequel to the first two movies. Got that? Good, now we can move on.
The movie begins with a flashback to 1953 where a young Elise Rainier (Ava Kolker – Scary Movie 5) lives with her parents and younger brother Christian in the family home on the grounds of a penitentiary where her father (Josh Stewart – The Neighbour) is a guard. Although Elise already demonstrates her gift of talking to ghosts her strict alcoholic father won’t accept it and punishes the innocent child whenever she shows signs of communicating with the dead, culminating in an event which leads to the death of her mother and a recurring source of horror for Elise later in life. Fast forward to 2010 and Elise (Lin Shaye – 2001 Maniacs) receives a call from the man who now lives in her old house and who claims that strange goings on are still happening, and so Elise packs up her things and travels to her old house with trusty companions Specs (Leigh Whannell – Saw) and Tucker (Angus Sampson – Mad Max: Fury Road) to face her old demons, and possibly some new ones.
At this point in the game the Insidious franchise has a problem in that its lead characters’ arc came to something of an end in the second movie, hence why we are now getting prequels that offer up little in the way of tension as we know the trio of Elise, Specs and Tucker are going to survive to the point of that first movie beginning. With that in mind the script needed to offer up interesting side-characters (which it does) and do enough with them to make the audience care about what happens to them (which it doesn’t). Bruce Davison (Willard/X-Men) is introduced as Elise’s brother Christian, who plays a prominent part in Elise’s backstory when they were children, but Davison is wasted here, popping up a few times to tell Elise to back off and then sit by his daughter’s hospital bed as her spiritual self is trapped in the ghost realm of ‘The Further’. Josh Stewart is admirably sleazy as Elise’s abusive father, having the air of an early Sean Penn about him, but the constant time switches and flashbacks limit his appearances to just scowling and delivering some awful dialogue whereas a whole story about Elise’s early years and why her father is like he is would likely have been a more interesting way to go, especially as we already know Elise is to survive her father’s abuse. There is also the suggestion that KeyFace, the main demon, has a connection to Elise’s father that sounded like it was worth exploring but, again, fleeting mentions and references to what sound like more interesting stories is as far as this script is going to go.
Where the film does score highly, though, is with the performance from Lin Shaye who now really owns the franchise and seems comfortable being the focal point. It is a role well deserved as Shaye has been a bit-part player for years, with early roles in the likes of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, Critters and Amityville: A New Generation endearing her to genre fans, but there is the sense that writer Leigh Whannell and the Blumhouse Productions team are focusing the writing more on Shaye than they are with telling a cohesive story. Whannell himself reprises his role as Specs, who has a fairly deep character moment that deserved to be followed up but seemed to have been forgotten amidst the constant shuffling of plot threads, and his on-screen partnership with Angus Sampson didn’t seem to be quite as natural as before, perhaps because the dialogue seemed to going for obvious cheap laughs.
The film itself looks quite spectacular on Blu-ray, the image being very crisp and because most of it is shot in the dark the blacks and dark blues are very strong but director Adam Robitel does make good use of shadow and shade. As with all of these haunting movies a good 5.1 surround system makes a world of difference, with various creaks and bangs coming out of different speakers adding some much-needed atmosphere, and the disc also comes with an alternate ending (which was left on the cutting room floor for a reason), some deleted scenes (again…) and a few making-of featurettes that offer up a little context but are ultimately standard behind-the-scenes fluff pieces.
A box-ticking exercise in modern mainstream horror filmmaking, Insidious: The Last Key barely deviates from expectation, throwing in a few (telegraphed) jump scares that aren’t really earned – the scene with Elise looking in suitcases by torchlight and then looking up every few seconds is painfully predictable – and coming off as a pale imitation of what went before when James Wan was directing. Speaking of what went before, despite the title there is no way this is the last of the series as a certain red-faced demon makes a very fleeting appearance for no other reason than to let you know that a) these events lead directly into the first movie and b) that particular plot thread still has not been concluded properly, and so brace yourselves for a fifth movie that, unless a radical change of direction is employed, will stretch things to ridiculously tenuous lengths. That said, if you have stuck with the series so far then Insidious: The Final Key does give you what you have come to expect so on that level it doesn’t disappoint and could be fairly enjoyable if you keep your expectations very low but, by contrast, that low bar is also what makes it quite a bland and predictable watch if you’re looking for something you haven’t seen before.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★