Mark Reviews Movies

Insidious: The Last Key


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Kirk Acevedo, Bruce Davison, Gerald Rainier, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Hana Hayes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language)

Running Time: 1:43

Release Date: 1/5/18

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 4, 2018

This is what it looks like when a series has run out of ideas. There were never too many new ideas in the Insidious series. In fact, the first two movies had one good idea apiece—respectively, the idea that it's not a house but a person that's haunted and that the world of the dead does not exist in a specific time or place but within all of time and space. The third installment moved back in time, giving us a better understanding of the psychic Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye), and was the best of the trio, in its exploration of grief in between the scary bits.

Elise returns as the protagonist of Insidious: The Last Key (dropping the whole "chapter" trend of the previous sequels for no apparent reason), and this installment moves even further back into the ghost-hunter and -talker's past. There's not much of a story here, and it seems that screenwriter Leigh Whannell (turning out his fourth script in this four-movie series) is filling in blanks that don't need filling—perhaps to fulfill some kind of contractual obligation or simply to get one last paycheck before this shallow fount of haunted houses, demons, and possessions runs dry.

The central idea is that Elise returns to her childhood home after its current resident calls her looking for help with a pesky ghost problem. A young Elise (played by Ava Kolker) knew about the ghosts that haunted the house, located near a New Mexico state penitentiary with a regular series of executions.

During a lengthy and altogether unnecessary prologue (unnecessary since the rest of the movie tells us everything we've already learned in the opening sequence), Elise suffers abuse at the hands and switch of her father (Josh Stewart), the prison's assistant warden, while her mother (Tessa Ferrer) encourages Elise not to be ashamed of her psychic gift. The mother is killed by a demon that Elise unintentionally releases into the world, leaving Elise and her brother (Pierce Pope) to be raised by their increasingly disturbed father.

Whannell and director Adam Robitel offer a few intriguing suggestions here, as Elise comes back to her old house with her ghost-hunting assistants Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). All of them have to do with a connection between Elise's childhood abuse and the concept of demonic evil. One standard scare scene has a silhouette moving behind our psychic heroine without her noticing it. When she turns around to confront the shadowy figure, she discovers that it's simply her father's old prison guard uniform. It's a sad and, on its own, rather ingenious moment, born out of a routine horror setup but implying that the real demons are present in the real world without any sort of spiritual hokum.

Since this is a supernatural horror movie, of course that suggestion never pans out within the story. Indeed, there are ghosts (of those whose lives were violently ended before their time) and demons (who look to possess unaware people in order to get more ghosts in the spirit realm). In between the constant feeding of repeated exposition and back story in Whannell's screenplay, Robitel constructs a sequence of generic scares.

Do things pop into frame without warning, accompanied by a blast of strings on the soundtrack? Of course they do. Does a demon make a drawn-out crawl toward a yelling victim? Naturally it does. Is there a strange S&M vibe to the main demon's dungeon of terror? That's not exactly something we expect, but yes, it definitely, oddly, and somewhat uncomfortably does possess that aura (It's particularly discomforting in the context of Elise's abuse, the fact that all of the victims are women, and the filmmakers' readiness to turn these real-world horrors into the stuff of a haunted-house thrill show).

The scares aren't effective, not only because they're so obvious, but also because Robitel errs on the side of trying to create tension without establishing a genuine threat. We've seen all of this before from the series. We know its tricks, and the movie offers nothing to change up and little to subvert those tricks.

By the end, Elise's story has come full circle, but after a story that has little to do with the rest of the installments, those final moments feel like a grudging necessity in order to provide closure. Will Insidious: The Last Key be the final movie in this series? Let's just say that the movie offers a cheap lifeline for the series in the form a hitherto unmentioned relative, who also possesses Elise's gift/curse. In other words, don't count on it.

Copyright © 2018 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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