Insidious: The Last Key
A routine chapter in a flailing franchise that can't be saved by its leading lady.
If the team behind the Insidious franchise could have their time again, we're betting they'd make a significant change. You don't need supernatural abilities to pick what they'd fix, with their decision to kill off Lin Shaye's parapsychologist Elise Rainier in the first movie something they clearly regret. In the second film, they brought her back via the spirit world, while the series' third and fourth instalments have gone down the prequel route. It's easy to understand why — as the plucky otherworldly expert tasked with helping ordinary folks battle literal demons, Shaye is the best thing the horror saga has going for it by far.
Indeed, thanks to the veteran actress, the Insidious flicks deserve a little more credit than they generally get. After all, how many franchises can say they have a 74-year-old woman as their star? A genre veteran with everything from A Nightmare on Elm Street to Critters to the Ouija movies to her name, Shaye remains as committed to her role as Elise as ever, including this time around. That said, pushing a septuagenarian front and centre can't make up for the series' largely by-the-numbers construction, which grows increasingly apparent with each new chapter. It would take serious mystical abilities to breathe life into the formulaic effort that is Insidious: The Last Key, for example.
Directed by Shaye's 2001 Maniacs co-star Adam Robitel, this derivative outing keeps its protagonist around by taking a tried-and-tested path: an origin story. Anchored in Elise's childhood, the movie could easily be subtitled "this time, it's personal". As an introductory segment explains, she was once a girl (Ava Kolker) with special abilities, living near a prison, with a stern executioner father (Josh Stewart) who didn't approve. In the modern-day storyline, Elise is called back to her former home by its current resident (Kirk Acevedo), who's having some paranormal troubles of his own.
Set in New Mexico's Five Keys and featuring a ghoul by the name of KeyFace, Insidious: The Last Key is anything but subtle. The paranormal villain also has keys for fingers, and doors and locks are prominent throughout the film. Although he created the series and has penned every instalment to date, Australian actor and screenwriter Leigh Whannell appears to be going through the motions with the flimsy narrative, even when he tries to step into more thematically interesting territory. Part of the movie focuses on abuse and the cycles of violence it can create, but it's treated with the same clunkiness as the supposedly-comic romantic subplot that sees sidekick characters, played by Whannell and Angus Sampson, hitting on a couple of much younger women.
Of course, depth isn't something the franchise has ever counted among its strengths. Nor, for that matter, is comedy. Other than Shaye's presence, it has always fared best as a genre exercise. When The Conjuring's James Wan was at the helm of the first two films, what the series lacked in smarts and story, it almost made up for with its well-executed bumps, jumps, shadowy images and unsettling atmosphere. Nodding affectionately to (and borrowing liberally from) iconic horror flicks has always been part of the package too, but Wan's handling of demonic spirits and haunted houses still struck a stylistic chord. Sadly, as this trying, generic effort demonstrates, Robitel doesn't have the same talents with aesthetics or with scares.
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