Insidious: The Last Key
Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet - in her own family home.
I am a fan of the first three films. For real I am. The original Insidious was quite frightening, if a little close to the story of Poltergeist. But great performances, fun scares and Barbara Hershey (I mean, c’mon). The second film was structurally fascinating and how it tied into the first installment – genius. And the third film made my Top 15 Horror Films for 2015 – what else can I say?
So going into Insidious: The Last Key, I had moderately high hopes. Despite my words above, I’m not a mega-fan of the franchise per se, but I certainly enjoyed the first three installments.
So with so many of the same people behind this fourth chapter, one has to seriously ponder, “what the heck went wrong?”
And it’s here where I’ll pick up and toss out my patented Mommie Dearest line of dialogue, as Joan Crawford (Faye Dunaway) waves a “bad” script in her boyfriend’s face, spouting off, “It’s not good.”
I’ve not used it in awhile, and I’ve not done a review in about a month, so it seems appropriate to break out this classic. And Insidious: The Last Key is certainly worthy of cracking open that old favorite.
The basic set-up for this chapter, is that our beloved spook-detective, Elise Ranier (Lin Shaye) has to investigate a haunted house for a new case. Thing is, it’s her childhood home. So going back there brings up plenty of demons (real and figurative). She brings along her sidekicks Specs and Tucker and meets up with her estranged brother and two nieces she never knew she had. She must again enter “The Further” to sort it all out and make amends with her own dark family history.
I was completely struck by the terribly flat humor of Specs (writer Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Simpson). I recall that during the other films, their light-hearted and goofy banter was a welcome distraction from the seriousness and ample frights of the film’s main story. But here, it felt awkward, poorly conceived and executed and actually a little creepy – as they continually hit on Elise’s nieces – Imogen (Caitlin Gerard) and Melissa (Spencer Locke). It wasn’t funny and many times – these terrible jokes felt like nothing more than filler.
And with the introduction of filler, there’s a lot of it to be found in this film. At points, the piece started to feel convoluted, particularly as we are introduced to some non-ghost horror. The film felt weirdly unfocused and meandering.
The production design is pretty good, but I couldn’t help but feel that some quality was missing. Perhaps its the fact that we’ve seen “The Further” three previous times… I’m not sure. But nothing about the sets or creepy tunnels the characters must navigate – looked all that inspired. And they certainly didn’t create any sort of engaging and scary atmosphere.
While there are a few effective “boo” moments throughout, the film is mostly devoid of suspense or build-up (the opening introduction to young Elise is the only exception). And with that, a tag of “boring” can’t be far behind.
There are pacing issues, and plenty of inane and pointless exchanges to be found. Of note, when Elise is reintroduced to her long-estranged brother, he accuses her of deserting him and there’s a big scene about it. Next sequence is Elise recounting basically the same information to one of her nieces – who was present for the first exchange. ??? It seemed that cutting or trimming several scenes and dialogue exchanges could have done wonders for pacing and left the audience with far fewer thoughts of, “didn’t we already know this?”
Lin Shaye has certainly done better work – the best examples of which appear in her previous performances as Elise. But something was wrong here. And with the knowledge that Lin is a capable and strong actress, where can the blame be thrown? It’s the dialogue. It’s truly awful in this installment. You can practically see Shaye (and everyone else for that matter) struggling through some of the terrible things she’s been hired to say. We know she’s better than this, so let’s give her something better to say.
Other than one supporting performance, there’s nothing to shout about as far as ensemble acting work. It’s all pretty bland, nothing standing out as either good or bad – and that middle ground, vanilla and boring – well, what could be worse? It feels like no solid acting choices were discussed or implemented.
As for that exception… As young Elise (the youngest, not the teenaged version), Ava Kolker is absolutely striking in her few scenes. In an extended prologue (a bit too long for my taste), we see young Elise – battling with her psychic gifts and dealing with her abusive father who doesn’t believe her about her numerous interactions with the dead. There’s one particular sequence of abuse, which showed off Kolker’s amazing gift (the acting, not the psychic abilities). And it really tore my heart out to see her ultimate effectiveness in portraying the character’s pain and terror. Great stuff.
And with the discussion of young Elise, that aforementioned opening sequence starts the film off on a very promising note. Had the film kept in line with this amount of creepy excellence, the final review might have been far more positive.
Screen legend Bruce Davison shows up as Elise’s now-grown brother Christian, and his acting skills were absolutely wasted. Sadly, he’s given very little to do. I mean… you’ve got Bruce Davison for heaven’s sake – use him!
There were plot points which were introduced early on, which had me shaking my head with an accompanying, “that’s pretty flimsy”. And while they were eventually explained away (to my great relief), the final explanations really weren’t all that entertaining.
The tie-in to the other films – while always welcome, integral and frankly quite clever in the earlier films – feels sloppily tacked on in this installment. It’s not necessary, and the filmmakers seem to know it – giving it very little weight or a prominent spot in the story.
The bottom line for me is – with so many returning quality names and faces (Shaye, Whannell, James Wan) from three previous and far superior installments – this looks like a last ditch money grab. Nothing is new here. Not much is fun here. It feels phoned in.
And I can safely say that the Insidious franchise has officially petered out. Last Key indeed.
The film is playing nationwide right now – at a theatre near you.