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. Given that it’s now the fourth entry in a franchise, is the latest sequel an ominous sign that the series is running out of ideas?
The Last Key continues the Insidious franchise by following its prequel, Insidious: Chapter 3. Keeping the franchise in prequel territory is a smart move by director Adam Robitel and screenwriter Leigh Whannell. The decision 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 childhood memories when she’s asked to investigate a haunting in her old family home. Some of these memories, such as her abusive father, are natural forces. But other memories are of the supernatural variety. As a young girl, Elise confronted a demon referred to in the credits as “Key Face”. . The investigation also re-acquaints her with her estranged brother and his grown daughters.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt in Insidious The Last Key
Four entries into a 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. Of course, all of this is accomplished with an efficient precision albeit absent much tension or emotional resonance. To his credit, 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.
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 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 movie above its fairly generic script. She adds a level of emotional gravity to a movie that wants to be so much more than to be a ‘run-of-the-mill” sequel.
Strong Performance Can’t Raise Dead Script
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 relevancy by paralleling Elise’s childhood and her struggles with demons as an allegory for family violence. Regardless of the best of intentions, the movie never balances out the requisite scares with its intended subtext at at any real 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 falls flat. One recurring joke that sees Leigh Whannel’s character attempt to spark a romance with Elise’s niece 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. Lastly, a connection to the first Insidious close to the end of The Last Key feel forces. It’s as though Robitel wanted 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. If anything, the sequel suggests that the franchise should be laid to rest. At this point, the only unexplored idea of interest would a cross-over with The Conjuring universe.
THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: C+