Courtesy of Blumhouse
Have you ever been driving in a car, listening to music in a daze. And then you blink only to arrive at your destination in which was supposed to be a 30 minute trek? That's the basic equivalent to zoning out, and that's what "Insidious: The Last Key" feels like. This horror film, in a long past overdue franchise, is like a blast of flashy pictures and inept cheap scares that really doesn't amount to much. It's not a matter of IF the demon is going to pop out, it's a matter of how many times can we cut away before the predictable moment occurs. "The Last Key" will likely entice younger generations, and lifetime fans of the series. Because this isn't a bad movie, it's just forgettable (I forgot major plot plots on my drive home and thank god I took notes because I'd be remiss.)
There were many things that James Wan and Leigh Whannell did right in 2010's shock-till-you drop horror fest "Insidious" that propelled it to being one of the best horror films of the decade. One thing they didn't account for? Framing a potential franchise. Case in point, killing off one of the main characters Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Forcing the series to backtrack, (aside from "Chapter Two" - the last two installments have been prequels), to a fascinating character study of Shaye's character (a veteran character actor herself, at age 74 she really crushes the part). That's all good, but what fogs the template is the directors trying to dust the cobwebs off creaky old staircases that couldn't muster a chill if they tried. Meaning: Shaye's script doesn't give her much to do, other than toss out cheesy lines ("I have to do this alone") which, thankfully, she's far to respectful of her character to treat it like a joke.
"The Last Key" by director Adam Robitel, from a script by Whannell, decides to delve deeper into Elise's story. In a harrowing opening sequence (arguably the best part in the feature) - we are dated back to the 1950s of Elise’s early childhood in New Mexico. She has a gift, we already knew that, but her tyrannical, alcoholic father (Josh Stewart) believes that beating the devil out of her is a the best bet. Often finding herself locked in the basement for her outbursts, a voice whispers that opening a red door would give her all the love she desires. In a move that will surprise no one, she throws logic away and does just that. It won't take a certified practitioner to tell you that bad things happen.
Of course, that was only a dream and it's actually 2010 (just prior to the first "Insidious") and like clockwork, the renowned owner of "Spectral Sightings" receives a huffy phone call begging for help. At first, she hesitates because it would require her to travel back to her home turf and deal with trauma issues that never were resolved. However, being the saintly woman she is, accepts the plea and takes her knucklehead, series regular, sidekicks Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) along for the trip. The only reason these two even exists is to offer some form of comedic relief, and cheesy zips that are cringeworthy. I'll admit, some of their humor got to me (like how they drive a "winnabaghost") but that's batting a thousand. A scene that involves the two hitting on Elise’s long lost nieces Imogen (Caitlin Gerald) and Melissa (Spencer Locke) also feels a bit pervy.
Once there, it almost becomes a play by play of when the "Insidious" series used to be fresh. The trio sets up their equipment, they do some tinkering with the house, and begin to investigate. Not to mention the man who called for help (Kirk Acevedo) is living in a house that he was blatantly told to stay away from, and most of it is exactly how Elise remembers it from 70 years prior. This guy hasn't touched anything in 70 years? That's hard to believe. I constantly was questioning his motives.
And just when you think the braintrust behind this series would evoke, I don't know, something not expected, they don't. For as good as jump scares are, they're still just that: cheap. The one cool creative component I will allot is the new "key monster" is feverishly cool to look at. A creature design that gives other franchise regulars a run for their money. If only his methods were as cool as he looked. Except, nothing will hold a candle to the red faced ghoul from the first installment.
By the time the twists begin to unravel and all the stupid decisions come to fruition, "The Last Key" does a good job at backing itself into a tricky narrative corner. So if you believe the word "last" in the title, I'd go ask any Michael Myers or Jason movie how that turned out. All these movies end the same, and you wonder how they keep coming back. In the process, the writers keep adding more of a wrench into the already twisty time loop paradox that governs the series. (This is supposed to be a sequel to a prequel? That was a sequel?)
If not for Shaye and her ability to sink her teeth into any role given to her, who knows where "Insidious" would be. The filmmakers are right to give her the spotlight, but at the expense of relying on her bankability alone isn't enough to pump more gas in this series. I'd wager if Blumhouse wants to keep making this movies, and lord knows they do, sure enough they need to come up with a better hook to keep these things from sinking deeper and deeper into the further. C