Insidious: The Last Key unlocks an underwhelming sequel
Insidious: The Last Key
Directed by Adam Robitel
Screenplay by Leigh Whannell
Starring Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Kirk Acevedo, Bruce Davidson
Production company: Blumhouse
Distributed by Universal
Release date January 5, 2018
Running time 105 minutes
Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language
The opening sequence of Insidious: The Last Key establishes the main haunt – a family’s home next to a sprawling prison. As the childhood home of series mainstay, Lin Shaye, it establishes a theme; the past as a prison – reverberating to the future. A minor theme, really, as it’s one of the many aspects half-though out in the fourth film in this series. The memories and ghosts of one’s life remain in various forms. Also remaining are memories of films that use the same concepts better.
In 2010, James Wan surprised horror audiences with the first installment of Insidious. He and writing partner Leigh Whannell, best known for Saw, presented a film that respected it’s audience and their expectations, allowing sequences and characters to breath and ghosts to be seen and noticed by the audience before the obligatory soundtrack punctuation. They perfected this three years later in The Conjuring. Wan returned to direct the inferior Insidious sequel, before leaving the serviceable but forgettable third chapter in the hands of Whannell, who has also written all four films.
Whannell doesn’t return to direct this time, though, passing the torch Adam Robitel, writer and director of one of the best horror films of recent years, The Taking of Deborah Logan. Robitel does a decent job in his direction. Scare sequences are set up and paid off well, with only a few obvious BOO moments. Unfortunately, the tension is only found during those scenes; almost like the house is not haunted unless it’s time to scare the audience. Those scare scenes aren’t allowed to stand on their own, often featuring a gimmick such as a body camera or a microphone to try to make the scares stronger. Instead they weaken by distracting and diluting the sequence.
The main issue is Whannell’s script. Many ideas and concepts are brought up, but not paid off. That prison next to the house? Perfect set-up for some nice sequences, but it’s never visited – especially when it’s empty in 2010. Paranormal junkies (like myself) know prisons are supernatural hotspots, to feature one but not use it is a waste. The ghosts related to the prison are given lip service but not followed up on. Throughout the film Shaye states “this house is filled with ghosts”, “so many have died there, they are drawn here” and “I’m going to draw all the spirits here to me.” But, yet, only the same handful spirits are seen, including the occasional use of the weak villain ghost – often forgotten for long stretches of the plot and not fleshed out at all. Speaking of the same being seen, returning are the ghost hunter sidekicks with Shaye’s psychic. They’ve moved from minor annoyance to distractingly awful with each film. Cutting out their fat, leaving the kick-ass lean that is Lin Shaye would bring a tighter, more frightening film.
Lin Shaye is the anchor to the film, and the series. Shaye is a favorite character actress of mine – a shining beacon in many awful films (looking at you Abattoir and Ouija). There’s a reason my wife and I lovingly refer to her as “Horror Gramma”. As meh as the these sequels may be, putting Shaye front and center is wonderful. Shaye is ferocious and commanding in her role.
Insidious: The Last Key is an underwhelming entry in an underwhelming series that started out fresh and promising. Decent scares are brought down by a weak script with many noticably better options. Although Lin Shaye remains as wonderful as ever, she’s surrounded by forgettable (did I mention her nieces or Bruce Davidson) or annoying characters.