Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home.
Insidious: The Last Key, chapter 4 in the series for those playing along at home, is another prequel to the ironically vital franchise about the afterlife and its run-ins with the material world. Front and center is Lin Shaye as the esteemed Dr. Elise Rainier. This installment delves into Elise’s past and the familial demons that chased her to the moments leading up to the first Insidious film.
Elliptical to be sure, but (SPOILER ALERT) Elise, the best protagonist in the franchise, dies and the end of the first film. Sooooo. Insidious: The Last Key begins in 1956, Five Keys, New Mexico. Young Elise is living in a large two-story craftsman home within the outer gates of a maximum security prison. Her father, a guard who somehow ranks well enough to be living in the palatial digs on property whiles his evenings away in front of the boob tube drinking rot-gut whiskey and beating his daughter’s psychic abilities out of her everytime she sees a ghost.
“Leigh Whannell’s script has some rather clever notions in it…”
The story flashes forward from the 50’s to 2010. The irascible Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specks (Leigh Whannell who also serves as screenwriter on the project) have moved in with Elise and get themselves in all sorts of trouble with their nerdery. The tolerant Elise laughs things off with the frivolity and wisdom of a TGIF sitcom and that’s when the phone rings. A man calls her asking for her expertise in riding his home of a malevolent spirit, but wait, guess where he lives. Elise’s childhood home. She tells the man she can’t help him and hangs up the phone.
In the next scene, our prodigious paranormalist is packing her bags, determined to head out to New Mexico by herself. That is, until Tucker and Specs talk her into letting them join her by rolling up in a used Winnebago. Did you catch that? One moment Elise was refusing to help, the next she was determined to go it alone. Get used to it, the film is rife with little nuggets of “Huh?”
The trio rolls up to the same ginormous home on the same property of the now-abandoned prison. This time a single man has moved in and continues to see evil spirits around his fixer-upper in the middle of nowhere. Elise, Specs, and Tucker gamely decide to investigate and bust the ghosts. In doing so they unravel an insidious mystery that involves not just the home, but Elise’s own upbringing and the demons that tormented her then.
“…cheap loud noise jump scares that put audiences on the defense rather than lure them in.”
The concept, to be very fair is a good one. Leigh Whannell’s script has some rather clever notions in it. Mining childhood trauma and the legacy of violence in a dysfunctional home through the lense of a ghost story is some powerful material. Unfortunately, being the main stream member of a hit franchise aiming squarely for the PG-13 crowd puts shackles on the possibilities much like those of the inmates in the adjacent prison.
Another mildly frustrating aspect are Adam Robitel’s choices from the director’s chair. Robitel, who was responsible for the brilliant The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014), gives us a party mix of elegant moments and clunky sentimentality. The moment where Specs and Tucker are given their white shirt and black tie uniforms is particularly cringe-inducing. Yet he stages some scenes to great effect, like the first time we are in the basement of the home with young Elise and her mother.
“…an installment that only the most devoted fans will truly enjoy.”
The film is riddled with irrational characters, story ideas that don’t land the way they should, and the cheap loud noise jump scares that put audiences on the defense rather than lure them in. Still, the best decision that the makers of Insidious: The Last Key made was to give Lin Shaye a lead role. This woman is endlessly watchable. A fascinating character actress, her talents are rarely given the showcase they deserve. This may be the end of her Insidious character as mentioned at the outset. Mr. Blum would do well to get a hold of a crackling script for her and really let her sink her teeth into it. Then we could really be terrified.
In the end, Insidious: The Last Key is, unfortunately, an installment that only the most devoted fans will truly enjoy. We get a decent mystery, the occasional scare, and Lin Shaye doing her thing. Not the worst, but not the best thing either.
Insidious: The Last Key (2017) Directed by Adam Robitel. Written by Leigh Whannell. Starring Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson.
Insidious: The Last Key is worth VOD (**).
Norm’s Rating System: Full Price (****), Matinee (***), VOD (**), Don’t Bother (*)