Synopsis – Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet – in her own family home.
My Take – Going by the trend, a fourth installment in a horror series usually means a low-quality sequel set up only as a source of cash grab, which seems to seek out only true fans of the series, walking into the cinema, I really hoped that it wouldn’t be the case this time around. The original, Insidious, when released back in 2010, was a huge hit mainly as it managed to standout from a sea of similar ghost stories, due to its effective direction (from James Wan) and a creepy atmosphere, while the 2013 sequel was equally successful, it was surprisingly, the third chapter of the film, which ended up defying the common arc of the horror franchises. Working as a prequel, it toned down the theatrics, fake-outs, and it’s emphasis on The Further, a terrifying place between life and death that exists on a different realm from ours where evil spirits trapped not just the souls of the dead but also those who were able to project themselves astrally during sleep, while shifting the focus more around the series’ most interesting character, Lin Shaye‘s Elise Rainer, a psychic who was killed in the final act of the first film. Sure, it the not best film, yet it functioned as a very enjoyable ghost story that, unlike Chapter 2, could stand on its own. However, this fourth chapter, which by this point, seemed to strung together only by a few recognizable faces and a spirit world defined more by a color palette than by any kind of coherent mythology, feels even more removed from the franchise, from its missing haunting score to its detour into non-supernatural horror. In comparison, this one falls quite behind better horror prequels to emerge recently like Ouija: Origin of Evil and Annabelle: Creation, still it does deserve brownies for being better and scarier than most horror films would be as the fourth film in a franchise. Sure, the film does have enough effective scares to keep the fans entertained but it will not bring in new converts though. Despite being the weakest installment, it does serve its purpose and keeps the tradition of horror storytelling alive by focusing on plot and character development rather than just plain old scares that the genre is famous for, all the while also working as a finale due to its twisted connection to the first film.
Picking up right after the events of Insidious: Chapter 3, the story follows Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) a parapsychologist who, after dealing with several monsters in the past, she must now confront her own personal demons. Forced to return to her childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico, in order to help, its new resident, Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), Elise, with her trusty sidekicks, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell), must face a creature with sharp metal keys for fingers, which open the red door into The Further. Recognizing it as the one she had unleashed unknowingly as a young girl back in 1952, Elise must once again enter the wretched plain, not just to sort out her client’s problems, but also to quiet the ghosts that haunt her soul. What follows is a recognizable tale of buried secrets and repressed horrors, elevated by a series of jump scares that are choreographed to agonizing perfection by director Adam Robitel. Still written by Leigh Whannell, this prequel, takes its time in setting the whole thing up in terms of Elise’s family and the abuse she and her brother endured when they were kids. It seems like a decent premise for a story, and, to my surprise upon entering the theater, it made for a compelling beginning as well. The prologue of the film is the strongest part of the entire film. The origins of the haunting are explored, motivation for Rainier is clearly established, and as the cherry on top, much of this introduction is well-paced and full of tense moments and legitimate scares, hereby making it the best part of the film, thanks to some effective performances by the actors involved – Josh Stewart and Tessa Ferrer as her parents, Ava Kolker as young Elise and Pierce Pope as her brother Christian – and a creepy, building sense of dread. They manage to infuse this sequence and the characters with a sense of being lived-in, a resigned weariness to the cycle of events that unfolds at the start. Elise’s backstory is fascinating, and helps connect some elements that were once shrouded in the mists of the unknown, and is presented nicely as past is integrated with present. As a conduit between the material world and the spirit world, Lin Shaye‘s Elise has become the center of the Insidious series, which started as a quick-and-dirty haunted house film from director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell, the team responsible for the Saw phenomenon. Much like Elise, Wan and Whannell were themselves acting as conduits, shrewdly bridging the retro-’80s horror of Poltergeist and Ghostbusters with the more aggressive, digitally enhanced shocks of contemporary studio horror. The sequels have edged more toward the Ghostbusters side of that equation, with Elise and her exceedingly goofy partners, offering their spook-expelling services to those in need. Here, the fourth entry, shows some inevitable signs of wear-and-tear, but that shift in perspective from the home-dwellers to the exterminators has distinguished it from typical haunted-house fare. Though it delivers the requisite stingers — albeit not as skillfully as past entries — there’s something fundamentally whimsical about Elise and company sputtering along from one case to another and writer Whannell, seems aware of it too, as here the crew travels in a custom-designed black Winnebago with their company title Spectral Sightings plastered all over it.
However, there are enough twists & turns to keep you guessing, especially one which no one can probably see coming, despite the script following the usual crest & trough pattern. The film also surprisingly has its share of emotional scenes, that includes family reunions post several years, strength of a mother’s love for her kids are aspects on which the makers rely on to create an emotional bond with the viewers. In addition, the scares, while not the scariest, do feel earned because of the thick tension established beforehand, and the clever setups and payoffs of each scare. Director Robitel’s taut, anxious staging is nearly undone by the ear-shredding stings that accompany his payoffs, but he thankfully doesn’t exploit the tactic, nor does he point a flashing arrow at every scare. Also, it’s nice to see him adhering to the practical effects that made his film, The Taking of Deborah Logan, so memorable — the creature wreaking havoc here won’t blow your mind, but it’s sufficiently gross. I was also mildly amused by the comic relief of Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson who play Elise’s sidekicks, granted some of the humor does feel a bit dumb but they mean well, so it’s one of those that just make you shake your head and dismiss them as immature children. However, once the action shifts gear into the second act, director Adam Robitel has to conjure up a metaphysical hell on a budget, and the film starts to resemble a more typical dregs-of-January studio horror film. Elise was established to be one such individual, and it isn’t reasonable that she would quickly return to The Further in order to seek out the entity which had terrorized her and is terrorizing the house’s current inhabitant as well as the spirits she sees around the property. But here, the middle act sees Elise come face-to-face with a different real-life horror, which while well-intentioned, is not nearly as developed as it needs to be and is hardly as interesting as the ghouls of The Further. Only in the final act does Elise finally return to that purgatory, but that homecoming is over too fast, too soon and too conveniently, almost as if it were simply an afterthought to form a narrative bridge into the first film. Though the core of it contains a satisfying, family-driven ghost story, the film’s need to sloppily incorporate The Further and the film’s previous entries does a disservice to the supporting cast by overcomplicating what should be a fairly straightforward story with confusing motifs and endless in-jokes. Sure, there are a couple of good horror sequences after the prologue that incorporate false scares and play with audience expectations, but after the first half of the film is over, these sequences become far less clever and delve into very cheap or forced scares. The final scare of the film in particular is atrocious. Plus, did anyone else notice that a lot of scenes from the trailers were missing, some of which really could have added on to the story, or allowed for more creepy makeup to be used. The acting from the whole cast is good, and as always Lin Shaye still is the best part just like all installments, her performances is always fresh, new and amazing, plus the characters Elise is one of the strongest horror characters I have seen on the big screen. Her sidekicks, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson are funny & likable enough. The newer additions like Caitlin Gerard, Bruce Davison, Spencer Locke and Kirk Acevedo are also good. On the whole, ‘Insidious: The Last Key’ is a fair popcorn horror thriller that despite a promising introduction and some excellent sequences in the first half of the film turned out to be a disappointment.
Directed – Adam Robitel
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 103 minutes