Reviews Insidious: The Last Key (2018)
Picking up right after the events of “Insidious: Chapter 3”, this fourth entry further (pun intended) explores the backstory of demonologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), who was murdered in a memorable twist at the end of the first film.
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Here, Elise is first introduced as a young girl living in a foreboding two-storey house on the outskirts of a New Mexico prison in 1952 where her stern father (Josh Stewart) works as a prison guard. Turns out that Elise already had a gift (or curse, depending on which way you look at it) for seeing ghosts then, but when she disobeys her father’s order to deny her paranormal abilities, he locks her in the basement. It is there she first encounters this movie’s demon – a tall lanky beast with old-timey keys for fingers – and unknowingly unlocks a mysterious red door for the monster to cross over into our world.
Back in the present day, Elise receives a phone call from a stranger who asks for her help with the ghosts in his house. That house turns out to be her childhood home, and despite her initial reservations at literally revisiting past demons, she eventually musters up the courage to confront what she recognises she had previously unleashed. It helps that she isn’t alone; thanks to the events in the last movie, she is now accompanied by a pair of dopey sidekicks Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell). To be sure, their signature high-tech gizmos aren’t of much use (certainly much less than they were in the first two movies), so their presence is really as comic relief – like Tucker loves to repeat, “She’s psychic; we’re sidekick.”
What distinguished “Insidious” from other haunted-house movies was its creation of ‘The Further’, a terrifying place between life and death that exists on a different realm from ours where evil spirits trapped not just the souls of the dead but also those who were able to project themselves astrally while asleep.
Elise was established to be one such individual, and it isn’t reasonable that she would quickly return to ‘The Further’ in order to seek out the entity which had terrorised her and is terrorising the house’s current inhabitant as well as the spirits she sees around the property. But Whannell, who had written every one of the “Insidious” movies, has other intentions; in fact, the middle act sees Elise come face-to-face with a different real-life horror, which while well-intentioned, is not nearly as developed as it needs to be and is hardly as interesting as the ghouls of ‘The Further’. Only in the final act does Elise finally return to that purgatory, but that homecoming is over too fast, too soon and too conveniently, almost as if it were simply an afterthought to form a narrative bridge into the first movie.
Even though the earlier ‘Insidious’ films had similarly spare scripts, they benefited from the taut direction of James Wan, who knew how to build perfectly good scares with icy dread. Unfortunately, series newcomer Adam Robitel doesn’t quite have the same knack. Not only is he able to generate the same atmosphere as Wan did, Robitel often betrays his own lack of confidence by resorting to the sort of jump-cuts which quickly tire out. This being his sophomore feature, he also lacks the experience to properly smooth over the rough edges of Whannell’s writing – in particular, the parts intended to be poignant, such as Elise’s estrangement from her skittish younger brother Christian (Bruce Davison), come off feeling contrived and sit awkwardly with the rest of the parts designed to frighten.
Ultimately, it is Shaye who holds the rickety film together, portraying Elise with just the right balance of vulnerability and fearlessness. While it may seem opportunistic that the “Insidious” series goes down the same road as “The Conjuring” (by using the same parapsychologist(s) across its entries), Shaye very much holds her own as the film’s septuagenarian heroine. That said, it is not quite nearly enough to reinvigorate the franchise itself, which seems imprisoned in its own creative limits and cannot quite go any further (that’s another pun, fully intended). Perhaps its title is ominous of its fate, and even if ‘The Last Key’ isn’t the last we hear of “Insidious”, then the next chapter better have a much more compelling raison d’être.