Reviews for the latest Insidious installment have been less than kind. At the time of writing this review, the Tomatometer for Insidious: The Last Key was sitting at a ‘rotten’ 31%. Perhaps better than its 31% rating suggests, The Last Key is certainly ‘Exhibit A’ of the law of diminishing returns, bearing all the hallmarks of a franchise running out of ideas.
The Last Key opts to continue the Insidious franchise by following its prequel, Insidious: Chapter 3, rather than directly following the timeline from Insidious: Chapter 2. Keeping the franchise in prequel territory is a smart move by director Adam Robitel and screenwriter Leigh Whannell as it allows the audience to get more of Lin Shaye’s Dr. Elise Rainier, easily the best part of the latest chapter. In The Last Key Elise is forced to confront painful memories of her abusive father and an early childhood encounter with a demon referred to in the credits as “Key Face” when she is asked to investigate a haunting in her old family home. The investigation also re-acquaints her with estranged brother and his grown daughters while bringing her sidekicks from the previous films along for the reside.
Four entries into a horror franchise and it’s hard for The Last Key to shake the “been here, done that feeling” that permeates the film. It’s a workman-like effort with the story bouncing from each necessary plot point to its next scare with an efficient precision absent much tension or emotional resonance. Robitel shows glimmers of promise as a director; a few of the jump scares in The Last Key will get the requisite screams from audiences. Even when these scares are telegraphed and you know they are coming Robitel shows craftsmanship in their design and set-up. With a fresh franchise and better screenplay Robitel may be a horror film director to watch. But the scares aren’t the real highlight of The Last Key; that honour goes to Lin Shaye and her performance. It’s refreshing to see Hollywood turn over the reigns of a horror film franchise to a mature female actress. And Shaye is tremendous, elevating the film above its fairly generic script. She adds a level of emotional gravity to a film that wants to be so much more than a ‘run-of-the-mill” horror entry.
Sadly, while The Last Key has ambitions to reach the levels of social commentary that Get Out nailed only a year ago, it falls far short. With his screenplay, Whannell tries to achieve some relevancy by paralleling Elise’s childhood and her struggles with demons as an allegory for family violence but the film is never able to balance out the requisite scares with this aspect of the story in any level of depth. Any social relevancy is instantly discarded in the film’s climax (No Spoilers).
The Last Key suffers on other fronts as well. Pacing in the first third is rather sluggish. Much of the comic relief provided by Elise’s sidekicks (played by Whannell and Angus Sampson) fall flat and their attempts to kindle romance with Elise’s nieces feels more creepy than whimsical. “Key Face” is probably the least memorable of the demons from The Further that the Insidious films have introduced. Hints that the franchise may try to continue with Elise’s oldest niece as the lead aren’t very encouraging as the The Last Key spends little time with her character until the final third. Lastly, a connection to the first Insidious close to the end of The Last Key feel forces, as if Robitel was trying to remind the audience of the lofty heights the franchise had previously achieved.
Overall, The Last Key is not a terrible movie; it is certainly not as bad as its Tomatometer would suggest. It’s a perfectly serviceable film that younger audiences will enjoy and more seasoned horror fans won’t mind spending 90 minutes in the theatre watching.