“Insidious” is one of those horror franchises that likes to jump around a lot in its timeline. “The Last Key” takes place second out of the four films. The story follows paranormal problem-solver Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her techies Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) as they investigate yet another haunting… but this time, it’s personal! Okay, we never get that cheesy line, but it is personal, and I wish we did.
The haunting is happening in Elise’s childhood home in Five Keys, New Mexico. We get flashbacks to a fateful night in which Elise’s father punished her for her paranormal visions by locking her under the floor. Young Elise was tricked into freeing a spirit from The Further that promised to help her escape. But the spirit turned out to be evil and it killed her mother. Elise and her innocent brother Christian were raised by their abusive father until Elise ran away because they didn’t understand her gift. Now the current owner of the house (Kirk Acevedo) is having haunting problems and Elise and her team need to tell the spirits to pipe down so he can get a good night’s sleep. Maybe Elise can use this opportunity to rid the world of whatever killed her mother.
Horror prequels like this present the challenge of predictability. We know that the three main characters are going to make it to later “Insidious” films, so there’s zero chance of them getting killed here. For this film to work, there needs to be someone to worry about. The house’s new owner isn’t particularly likeable, he won’t do. Enter salvation from the grown Christian (Bruce Davison) and his daughters Imogen (Caitlin Gerard) and Melissa (Spencer Locke). These characters have never appeared in an “Insidious” film before, and their fates are up in the air.
If you’ve ever seen an “Insidious” film, or even a trailer for one, you know that the horror is mostly jump-scare-based. Demons and spirits have transcended planes of existence just to pop out and scream a word or two and then vanish. The good entities are even worse about this than the bad entities. The bad entities at least try to be soothing to lure victims into a false sense of security. The good entities can’t be bothered to say “Don’t be alarmed, I’m a good guy!” They have to scare the characters and risk giving them a heart attack that would defeat the objective of having a living person complete the mission.
The film is disappointingly lacking in humor. I remember getting some hearty laughs out of “Insidious 3”, but this film doesn’t measure up. Specs and Tucker are comic relief as always, but their shtick is getting old. Specs is meek and awkward, Tucker is macho and dumb, and they run the act into the ground. There is a brief reprieve when Specs has to deal with a danger of this world, but otherwise their antics feel forced. They’re creepy too, in a non-horror way, as they’re constantly hitting on Christian’s daughters. The movie should have had a scene where tough old bird Elise threatens them with violence if they don’t leave her nieces alone, but somehow it misses the opportunity.
“Insidious: The Last Key” is a completely standard installment of a franchise, and really a whole genre, that is lucky if its films qualify as “standard.” Lin Shaye puts her back into her performance as always, and I think the demon du jour is well-designed, but this movie is nothing special. I hope The Last Key opens the door to a theater that’s showing a better movie.
“Insidious: The Last Key” is rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language. Its running time is 103 minutes.
Robert R. Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. His weekly movie reviews have been published since 2006.