Insidious: The Last Key puts the focus on the breakout character of the series, the parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). The movie takes place in 2010 before the events of the first movie. She receives a call asking for her help, at a house in the small town of Five Keys, New Mexico. It just so happens that this is the house she grew up in, a place she’s been running away from for her entire life. She returns to the town with her two sidekicks (Leigh Whannell and Tucker Sampson), and she investigates the matter. There, she’s forced to confront the demons of her past, both literally and figuratively.
This is the fourth film in the Insidious franchise, and the Law of Diminishing Returns is in full effect. While there is some novelty in following Elise Rainier around instead of introducing her later as the savior of another hapless family, the movie negates all that by still fumbling around in the same playground, with hardly any new ideas on display. Its connections to the larger narrative of the series are both facile and counterproductive. The movie, in having to fit itself into the established timeline of the other films, fails around with little suspense.
It’s best not to think about how this all connects to the other films, even though the movie itself seems determined to make those connections clear. It’s probably best not to think about what we already about what happened to Elise Rainier in the previous films, because that might take away from the tension of the horror scenes in this movie. Not that there’s anything particularly effective in this movie anyway. Its playbook is mainly limited to having grotesque creatures pop into frame from unexpected locations.
It’s the kind of thing that only really works once. The film establishes that technique, and basically does it a couple more times later on, watering down the initial shock. And in all these cases, the film isn’t really doing much more than startling the audience. It’s playing a cheap game instead of trying to tell a story. What narrative it does manage to convey is thematically all over the place, hinting at all manner of subtext without committing to any one specific concept. And if one really tries to break it down, it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. The film, like so many badly made horror movies, is hiding behind genre to mask lazy writing.
Lin Shaye continues to be the best thing about the entire franchise. Though she isn’t able to really make this entire movie work on her own, her grounded, subdued performance as Elise Rainier continues to give a real sense of humanity to the supernatural proceedings. Her co-star Whannell and Sampson are still mostly playing the comedic relief, bumbling through the investigation and providing the occasional cringeworthy attempt at humor. One would think that at this point, there might be more to these characters. But the film refuses to let that happen.
Insidious: The Last Key doesn’t really add anything to the franchise. If anything, it waters things down. The series’ coolest concept, The Further, feels less dangerous as more and more characters take the trip and survive to tell the tale. Its best character, Elise Rainier, is made less interesting the more we learn about her. The value of the series as a whole is hurt the more we go back to the well, the potency of its ideas diluted as it tries to repeat past success, the monsters becoming old hat, the audiences becoming inured to all the same tricks.
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.