Insidious: The Last Key
★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
They call January a “dump month,” meaning that many of the movies released aren’t expected to do well. It’s kind of the doldrums after the chaotic holiday season where studios are banking on everyone’s time off. So it’s rather telling that Blumhouse Productions released Insidious: The Last Key this week. It’s even more telling that Last Key was slated to hit theaters this past October but was swapped for the well-received Happy Death Day. But even for a dump month movie, Insidious is too inconsistent and unintelligible to be worth a watch.
What’s so disappointing is that the film has such a promising start but falters after twenty minutes. The franchise’s main protagonist Elise (Lin Shaye) flashes back to her childhood, coping with her ability to communicate with the dead while dealing with an abusive father. By adding familial abuse, Last Key raises the emotional stakes of the series in a realistic and powerful way. We emotionally invest in her differently than we might have in previous films. So when the scares begin, it makes them all the more jarring. In one particular scene, we see what happens when the haunts go after her baby brother in a bunk bed. It’s creepy even thinking about it!
But then they have to ruin everything by focusing on Elise as an adult. Obviously it’s easy to say this in hindsight, but the film would be best if Elise were developing her craft at a young age. Shaye is great and she works with the material as best as she can but it ultimately isn’t enough. The writers try to squeeze in too much which makes the rest of the movie a mess. They work in a new demon, who, for whatever reason is trying to get into our world. He may be scarier looking than some of the other ghosts we’ve seen but he certainly isn’t scary. He doesn’t really do anything other than look gross and kill on occasion. But his killing is inexplicable and long-winded. Why would a demon need a prison full of living spirits? Why does it sometimes kill people in our world but then sometimes they stay alive and their soul is trapped in the further? There are just so many questions and it ends up confusing audiences.
And then there’s the forced family element with her now grown up brother who has daughters of his own. One of them (Caitlin Gerard) has similar psychic abilities Elise has! But then the demon gets her and Elise has to once again go into the further… and this time… it’s personal. Yawn.
A common theme throughout the movie is “who’s the biggest monster of them all?” We see humans doing crappy things and killing as well as demons doing scary ghost things. Is there a message for us to take home? Maybe that people are capable of evil just the way scary killer monsters are? Either way, it’s stupid.
The scares after the beginning become increasingly predictable and reliant on jump-scares. Question: if a horror movie relies mostly on jump-scares, is the movie truly scary at all? The answer is mostly no, unless you frighten easily. That’s because they can shove all the scary loud noises and imagery down our throats, eventually audiences catch on to their game. Yeah we may get a little spooked but ultimately, we can see it coming from a mile away. Nice try, guys!
Ever hear of chechkofs gun? It’s the idea that anything that is mentioned in a movie or play should be used at some point. So if you said you had a bottle of whisky in your pocket in one scene, that whisky bottle had darn well better make an appearance at some point. In Insidious, they make reference to a red bible a few different times. So naturally, the expectation is that this bible is going to have a payoff by the end of the movie. But thus, the credits rolled and there was no mention of the bible ever again. What is that? Why build it up if it’s just going to be edited out? It’s indicative of sloppy filmmaking and is inexcusable.
It’s kind of a bummer that Shaye’s final performance as Elise is an overall pretty crappy movie. Especially since now that Elise’s story has completed, it’s to be expected that her niece will take the reins in the series. A better solution would be to stop with the sequels and spend energy on a sequel to Get Out.
The Good: There are two scenes in particular where the suspense is crafted beautifully leading to an epic scare payoff. It shows that the filmmakers do truly care about their product.
The Bad: However, the genius in this movie is limited to those particular moments. The rest of the movie is weak and disjointed.
Final Word: A sad exit for Lin Shaye and hopefully an end to the Insidious series. It was great while it lasted but like so many horror sequels, it fails to live up to the expectations of the first movie.