Back in 2011, the creators of two of the biggest modern horror franchises, Saw and Paranormal Activity, teamed up to give us a whole new horror film… that really fell flat on its face. Yes, I’m talking about Insidious. It’s a shame, because I think the first hour of Insidious is one of the best modern horror films ever made. It’s incessantly creepy and unsettling, thanks to James Wan’s excellent direction and the great lead performances. Then the last act happens and it turns into a laughable, convoluted farce. I view it as one of the prime examples of a film being completely ruined by its third act. After that disappointment, I had no desire to return to the Insidious franchise and never bothered with the other installments. But here I am now…  

Insidious: The Last Key follows parapsychologist Elise Rainer (Lynne Shay), kicking off her new ghost/demon/whatever hunting business with her partners Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). When she gets a call from a man claiming his house is haunted, she realizes it’s her old childhood home, which was rife with abuse and an evil demon called Keyfinger (he’s credited as Keyface, but he has keys for fingers, not a key for a face). Wanting to overcome her past demons, while conquering this new one, Elise and her team head back to her old home to get rid of the spirits for good. 

Oh, yes, friends. It’s that wonderful time of year. The dump month that we call January. What better way to start it off than with a generic horror film?! This is the fourth Insidious film, but the second chronologically. Yes, that means it’s a prequel to the first two films, while also being a sequel to the third film, which was a prequel. So, it’s clear that screenwriter Leigh Whannell and producer Oren Peli have no idea where to take this series, and it couldn’t be more obvious than this installment. The first word that comes to mind is lazy. All the film consists of is dramatic scenes where Elise spouts some exposition to move the plot forward, interspersed with some “creepy” sequences of people wandering around a dark house and encountering jump-scare demons. Rinse and repeat with terrible editing for the next 90 minutes until the film ends in the most laughable fashion imaginable. When the climax was resolving, I said to myself, “If they do that, that’ll be so stupid.” And they did. There are some interesting elements introduced and some admittedly well directed horror sequences, but they’re not developed enough to have any impact. 

Aside from it being competently shot, the main thing holding the film together is Elise’s character and her performance by Lin Shaye. Having her experience hauntings as a child, then going back to her old family home to help someone else out, was an interesting avenue to take the character. Shaye is excellent at conveying the fear, apprehension, curiosity, and passion for the supernatural. She’s not excellent whenever she has to open her mouth, though. My God, was the dialogue in this atrocious. Pretty much nothing but exposition delivered in the most unnatural, stilted way possible. “There’s a haunting at my old house. I call it a house, because it wasn’t a home,” Elise says, and that’s not even the worst of it. Any scene that actually tries to be dramatic just falls flat on its face, all because of the dialogue, which results in comical performances. 

Above all, though, the film just isn’t very scary, thrilling, or suspenseful. I honestly don’t find James Wan’s and screenwriter Leigh Whannell’s brand of horror all that effective. A lot of their horror elements are like googling “creepy pitures” and seeing the most generic stuff, like people with gaping mouths, elongated limbs, no eyes, etc. I know Wan didn’t have much to do with this installment, but this is still his particular brand. Perhaps he should have stuck around, because from the storytelling to the design of the demons themselves, it all feels incredibly rote and stale. There’s some entertaining stuff in Insidious: The Last Key, but it’s all way too far and few between, trapped inside in an incredibly dull film. Even the packed theater I saw it with seemed bored. The dump month is in full force people! 


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