The fourth installment of one of Hollywood’s most tiresome horror franchises opens with some promise. Young Elise Rainer has a special ability, this much we know already. If just for a moment, Insidious: The Last Key offers some poignant drama mixed with some undoubtedly creepy visuals. What follows is an uninspired 90 minutes of jump scares and flimsy plot twists. The Last Key is not terrible however. It is for this writer, a franchise best which is not saying much. These films admittedly never appeal to me. However, within the (hopefully) final installment, there is something to be said for Lin Shaye’s commitment to the material, and nothing much else to grasp on to.
In the films first few moments, young Elise is coming to terms and managing the idea of her newfound skills. Her ability to communicate with the dead scares her father (Josh Stewart). Yet, within all of this, coupled with capable enough directing, the sequence manages to be emotionally resonant. When you’re wrapped up in the characters, the scares become more effective. Still, as quickly as we’ve been plunged into this home, we are taken out of it. Director Adam Robitel wants to get to the real scares. Ghoulish figures popping out of suitcases or just general cheap thrills. Frustratingly, the film never lingers on anything remotely resonant again until the very end of the film.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about the Insidious franchise is just how forgettable it is. When we are introduced to Specs (screenwriter of all four films Leigh Wannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) I was sure they were follies to be killed off by the end of the film. That was until midway through I recalled the first film from eight years ago, which these characters also appear in. Outside of Lin Shaye’s Elise, none of these characters are remotely engaging to watch. Instead, we slog through a 100 minute runtime of watching two bumbling side kicks fight over the pretty girl.
In all of this, Robitel focuses on the entirely wrong thing that could make these movies interesting; the characters. Yes it has some nifty camera work and trick editing to make you a jump a couple times. But like the previous three films, The Last Key opts to ignore a possibly compelling family dynamic, and use the most makeshift family drama moments as set up for the next set of scares you’ll see. It’s a common theme in these films. Once Elise decides to face down her past and return to her childhood home, its current inhabitant, Ted, virtually exists to call attention to the true story of Elise’s father. It is an intriguing layer to the backstory of our main character, but a flawed one.
Visually The Last Key turns all the right locks. Creepy imagery is always pretty great in these films and when the jolts are predictable, the look of it is usually always effective. But, the films strengths will always revert back to Shaye. The 74-year-old veteran embraces the implied seriousness of the character while never playing into it in a real serious manner. She is always watchable in these films and even can elevate the material at some points.
When it’s all said and done, and the last creepy crawly ghost has passed on, The Last Key will satisfy its already built up, core audience. For newcomers who jump on the bandwagon now, this final installment could serve as a capable enough stand alone story. Like most horror sequels, it won’t convert the uninitiated. It doesn’t have to. If Insidious has done anything right, it’s certainly not overstayed it’s welcome. The Last Key brings the series full circle in a way that more horror franchises could aspire to. No spinoffs, no fifth, sixth, or tenth installments. Rather, while The Last Key is not unwatchable, it’s certainly a welcome end to a horror franchise that has made its target audience satisfied, and non jump scare horror fans such as myself relieved.
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