×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Insidious: The Last Key’

Despite star Lin Shaye's best efforts, this fourth "Insidious" installment seems to leave the franchise with nowhere to go.

With:
Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet, Marcus Henderson, Hana Hayes,

Rated PG-13  103 MINS.

Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell did quite a lot of things right in 2010’s shamelessly entertaining paranormal thriller, “Insidious.” But as far as franchise-building goes, they made one crucial error: killing off the film’s most memorable character, the unflappably empathetic sexagenarian parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). For the first sequel, “Chapter 2,” they brought her back in spectral form, and for 2015’s Whannell-directed “Chapter 3,” they made even more room for her by approaching the film as a prequel. A direct sequel to that prequel, “Insidious: The Last Key” finally gives Elise the complete spotlight, and in doing so turns her into something of an action hero, complete with an origin story. Despite the indomitable Shaye’s best efforts, however, new director Adam Robitel is rarely successful in shaking the cobwebs off this increasingly creaky franchise: “The Last Key” is wildly uneven, confused and confusing, and it appears to leave the “Insidious” saga written into a corner yet again.

Largely taking place in 2010, shortly before the events of the first film, “The Last Key” makes ample time for flashbacks, beginning with a 1950s-set prologue depicting Elise’s very unhappy childhood. The daughter of a prison warden, the grade school-aged Elise (Ava Kolker) lives in a creaky house in the shadow of a New Mexico penitentiary, and her budding paranormal gifts are already drawing the curiosity of her skittish younger brother Christian (Pierce Pope) and the ire of her abusive, ghoulish father Gerald (Josh Stewart). In a well-staged early setpiece, Elise finds herself trapped in her house’s basement at night, beckoned by a child’s voice to unlock a mysterious red door, which she does with tragic consequences.

Back in the present day, Elise receives a call from the new owner of her childhood home, who has been experiencing strange phenomena of his own. Initially reluctant to revisit her traumatic past, she quickly relents, and heads back to small-town New Mexico with her two ghostbuster-wannabe sidekicks Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) in tow. Her new client (Kirk Acevedo) bears a noticeable resemblance to her father – he also walks with a Neanderthal’s gait, and does not appear to have done laundry in a fortnight – and Elise’s team has scarcely set up shop in the house before various apparitions begin to literally crawl out of the woodwork. Back in town, Elise runs into her now-grown brother (Bruce Davison) and his two adult daughters (Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke). Christian blames Elise for abandoning him when she was 16 – Hana Hayes plays the teenage Elise in flashbacks – and storms off, but it isn’t long before he and his progeny end up back at the haunted old house as well.

Robitel has a steady craftsman’s grasp of the rhythms that make a classic Blumhouse jump scare, but he struggles with the element of surprise; the setups to the scares are so predictable, the question is never if a demon will appear in a particular frame, but simply how many seconds the shot will be held until it does. Very little of the tension-breaking comedy comes off – a half-baked comic subplot involving Specs and Tucker’s attempts to woo Elise’s nieces is cringe-worthy – and the director will sometimes cut away to ominously emphasized objects that turn out to have no significance at all. But to be fair, the script doesn’t make things easy for him. At roughly the midway point, “The Last Key” makes its boldest gambit, halfway pivoting away from the series’ stock paranormal hauntings to horror of a different, if no more novel, variety. The revelation that occurs makes little sense in light of things that have happened literally minutes earlier, and when the film begins to lapse into surreal dream logic in the final stretch, it feels less like a conscious choice than an attempt to avoid accounting for loose ends.

If the film ties together at all, it’s mostly due to Shaye’s undeniable appeal. A veteran character actress, Shaye clearly knows how rare it is to have a role like this at 74, and she sinks her teeth into every scene. Given a line like “My presence draws the spirits out of their dark little corners,” Shaye is too respectful of her character to deliver it with a wink, but nor does she invest it with the sort of bug-eyed intensity that would make it ridiculous. Watching as the simultaneously vulnerable and fearless Elise throws herself into one perilous entanglement after another, you have to tip your hat to the “Insidious” brain trust for giving the character the starring role, but as the franchise’s chronology drifts ever closer to where it all started, it’s sadly clear that the character has nowhere else to go.

Film Review: 'Insidious: The Last Key'

Reviewed at Arclight Hollywood, January 2, 2018.

Production: A Universal Pictures release of a Stage 6 Films, Blumhouse production. Producers: Jason Blum, Oren Peli, James Wan. Executive producers: Bailey Conway, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Couper Samuelson, Steven Schneider, Leigh Whannell.

Crew: Director: Adam Robitel. Screenplay: Leigh Whannell, based on characters created by Whannell. Camera: Toby Oliver. Editor: Timothy Alverson. Music: Joseph Bishara.

With: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet, Marcus Henderson, Hana Hayes,

More Film

  • South Mountain

    Film Review: 'South Mountain'

    “South Mountain” joins the company of “Gloria Bell” and “Diane” as yet another 2019 drama intimately attuned to the literal and emotional plight of a middle-aged woman. In the case of Hilary Brougher’s incisive feature, the female in question is Lila (Talia Balsam), whose quiet life in upstate New York is destabilized by a continuing [...]

  • The Good Girls

    Shanghai Film Review: 'The Good Girls'

    The economy’s a mess but Sofía’s hair is perfect in Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls,” a film that is all surface in a way that is not, for once, a negative. The primped, powdered and shoulder-padded story of the fall from grace of a 1980s Mexican socialite is all about buffed and lustrous surfaces [...]

  • ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (Who Totally

    ‘Midsommar’ Traumatizes Early Audiences (But in a Good Way)

    Ari Aster can likely cross off “sophomore slump” from his list of many nightmares. Distributor A24 let loose the follow-up to the director’s widely praised, commercial hit debut “Hereditary” with two buzz screenings, which ran simultaneously in New York and Los Angeles on Tuesday night. Response was almost unanimously positive, if not significantly rattled. “Holy [...]

  • Toy Story 4 Forky

    ‘Toy Story 4’ Tops Studios’ TV Ad Spending

    In this week’s edition of the Variety Movie Commercial Tracker, powered by TV ad measurement and attribution company iSpot.tv, Disney Pixar claims the top spot in spending with “Toy Story 4.” Ads placed for the animated film had an estimated media value of $5.53 million through Sunday for 1,073 national ad airings on 38 networks. [...]

  • Nicolas Cage

    Film News Roundup: Nicolas Cage's 'Jiu Jitsu' Obtains Cyprus Support

    In today’s film news roundup, Cyprus is backing Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu”; “The Nanny” and “Amityville 1974” are moving forward; “Milk” is returning to theaters; and Garrett Hedlund’s “Burden” is getting distribution. CYPRUS REBATE Nicolas Cage’s “Jiu Jitsu” has become the first international film to use Cyprus’ new tax credit-rebate program by filming entirely in [...]

  • Zhao Tao

    Zhao Tao Gets Candid in Kering's Shanghai Women in Motion Showcase Interview

    Zhao Tao is one of the most recognizable faces in Chinese art cinema thanks to her longtime collaboration with director Jia Zhangke, whom she married in 2012. From 2000’s “Platform” to last year’s “Ash is Purest White,” her work has plumbed the moral depths of modern China and brought stories of the country’s drastic change [...]

  • Skyline on the Huangpu River with

    Chinese-American Film Festival Seeks Particular Dialog

    With U.S.-China ties at an ever-sinking low, the Chinese-American Film and TV Festival on Tuesday pledged to improve communications between the two countries —  at a Chinese language-only press conference Tuesday that had few foreigners present. Most attendees who took to the stage to give congratulatory speeches that seemed more intent on heaping praise upon [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content