Another year, another Insidious movie. I know we’re only on the 4th of these—and none of them have been hideously bad—but it feels like an onslaught, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s because, at this point, there’s nothing to them. They feel like every other “there’s a demon here” movie. Even the first one, the best of the franchise, was only “good” in the sense that James Wan knows how to make a horror movie, and it had the Darth-Maul-Mask demon. It also had “the Further,” an astral projection spirit world that makes little sense and doesn’t need to.
The de facto protagonist for the Insidious movies has become Elise (Lin Shaye), a paranormal hunter who has some (vaguely defined) psychic powers, and who runs around with two dummies, Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell), who in theory operate all of the tech required to hunt demons but in practice provide terrible comic relief. Watch here how they lust after Elise’s nieces. They do this to the point that they struggle to fulfill their job requirements. It’s creepy.
Since Elise is our protagonist, but we really don’t know much about here, it’s time to do the requisite “back story and then return to childhood house” film. We see a lot of Elise as a child, as she deals with discovering her gift and her abusive father (Josh Stewart), who disciplines her whenever she says she sees dead people. And, wouldn’t you know it: right after dreaming about what happened in her childhood, she’s called back to her childhood house—”it never felt like a home”—in order to deal with a haunting.
She doesn’t have to face many old demons—so to speak—once she’s there, though. Mostly, it provides flashback fodder. She sees a thing she remembers, it triggers a flashback, we get to see something that happened to her, and we learn a minuscule amount of new information. All in all, given that this is “her” film for the first time, it’s pretty disappointing how little it helps us get to know her character, and how much of it doesn’t matter.
Insidious: The Last Key is a bland, boring, unimportant, unnecessary, and not very scary entry in a franchise that has increasingly showcased all of those attributes.
The plot is silly, inconsequential, and an excuse to shroud the film in darkness and have “scary” things jump out at us. The music goes quiet, and then—BAM!—a loud noise and a fast-moving object appears or is panned to, and we jump and are supposed to congratulate the movie. It’s not scary; it’s startling. I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve had to say this but, because we’re in a new year, I’ll repeat it: Jump startles are not scary and anything can be startling if set up appropriately.
In the movies, they often wind up filling in for suspense, tension, and atmosphere—you know, the things that can actually scare a person. I don’t want to call it laziness or a lack of skill that makes directors rely on them, but sometimes it feels like that. The best horror movies—the ones we remember and don’t just lump in with the crowd—don’t rely on jump startles. They’ll usually contain a couple or maybe even a few, but they don’t use them as a crutch. They’re supplemental to the atmosphere.
Additionally, since this is a prequel to the first film—and a sequel to the third; chronologically it’s second in the franchise—we know that the three recurring characters will be fine. That’s a hard thing to get past, and you do it by making the story really interesting and revealing. This one isn’t.
I wish I could say that, beyond everything else, Insidious: The Last Key gave its star, Lin Shaye, an opportunity to showcase her acting chops. Mostly, she looks half scared and half interested in the proceedings. Sampson and Whannell (the latter of whom is the series’ main writer) serve little purpose and aren’t great actors. Their comedy is awful and their obsession with the nieces is off-putting.
Insidious: The Last Key is a bland, boring, unimportant, unnecessary, and not very scary entry in a franchise that has increasingly showcased all of those attributes. It doesn’t provide the necessary depth for its protagonist, its plot isn’t very interesting, it relies on jump startles over genuine chills, and we never once feel like any of it matters. It isn’t a horribly made movie, but it’s one whose existence is very difficult to care about.
Conclusion: Insidious: The Last Key feels obligatory on the part of everyone involved.
Recommendation: Don’t take another trip into the Further.