The Insidious films (this is the fourth one, for those counting) have always been a mixed bag. The first two chapters started strong with a quality director (James Wan), the writer of Saw (Leigh Whannell, who also co-stars in all the films), and high-end actors Patrick Wilson and Rose Bryne leading the cast. And while I certainly have always had a soft spot in my heart for actor Lin Shaye (who plays series mainstay/parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier), there’s no getting around the fact that prequel Insidious: Chapter 3 (with Whannell stepping into the director’s chair) was a laughable dud.
That being said, things take a slight turn for the better with what may be the franchise’s last installment, Insidious: The Last Key. I’m pretty sure it takes place not long after Chapter 3 in the adventures of Dr. Rainier and her two goofy assistants (played by Whannell as Specs and Angus Sampson as Tucker). But this story also takes us, via flashbacks, to Rainier’s teenage years and the beginnings of her dealings with the supernatural. There’s a strong turn by Ava Kolker as the young Elise living in a rundown home in New Mexico with her loving mother (Tessa Ferrer), her younger brother Christian (Pierce Pope), and her dangerous father (Josh Stewart), who decide to deal with Elise’s abilities to communicate with the dead by beating her and locking her in the basement where all manner of terrible things dwell.
Sticking with the franchise’s preferred PG-13 rating, nothing in The Last Key is particularly bloody, but I’m still surprised that these films sneak by the MPAA with so much concentrated scariness. This time around the villain pestering Elise’s childhood home is referred to as KeyFace (Javier Botet), which is strange since he has keys for fingers and not, for example, on his nose. It turns out, Dr. Rainier’s latest call is back to her old home, now occupied by Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) who is experiencing poltergeist-style activity, which is clearly the same tortured entity from decades earlier. But fortified with a lifetime of ghost dealings, the good doctor walks into the situation fearlessly…at first.
The demons that haunt her are connected to her family and the abuse she suffered by her father’s hand. This angle brings an interesting and welcome newness to the series (once again, this one is written by Whannell), and gives Shaye a bit more backstory to bite into as an actor. Director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) delivers the requisite scares (there’s a sequence in a tunnel in the basement that is especially effective) and returns us to The Further, where Elise sees exactly why so many spirits seem to occupy her old home and also gets a fresh perspective on her father’s behavior.
The Last Key’s storyline is unnecessarily complicated, and Whannell seems to think it’s necessary to tie in the end of this film with the beginning of the first Insidious entry, apparently in an effort to complete the circle of Dr. Rainier’s life. There’s a reunion moment between Elise and her now-older brother (played by Bruce Davison) and his two grown daughters whose only reason to be in this movie is to provide fresh victims for the evil spirit and pretty faces for the creepy assistants to hit on.
The film isn’t a total bust, but having linked it back to the original film, it seems like a good time for creators Wan and Whannell to call it quits on a largely successful horror series before things get so stale it becomes an embarrassment.