If mainstream review websites are to be believed, Insidious: The Last Key is the latest installment in another horror franchise which has overstayed its welcome. The reviews claim the series gets worse with every installment. (It’s worth noting they don’t seem to get Friday the 13th or other formative works, so many horror fans take their disapproval with a grain of salt.) For fans of the genre and of the universe created by Leigh Wannell, Insidious: The Last Key proved to be the best since the original released in 2010.
What made the first Insidious special was that it turned the haunted house genre sideways. By introducing elements of astral projection into the narrative, Leigh Wannell and James Wan stripped troubled spirits of restrictions seen in decades of lore. How much more horrifying is it to think that a character isn’t getting haunted because he’s staying in a home which housed a grisly murder, but instead because the evil spirit likes him? Compound this new twist with the idea of ‘the further’–the dark realm where spirits of the dead and evil beings roam freely and can trap the living in an attempt to steal their bodies and lives. Compound that with parapsychologist Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye), a powerhouse and supernatural badass woman over 50, and it’s no wonder Insidious was met with such wide acceptance. Insidious: The Last Key returned to those genre-bending roots by grounding the series more heavily in reality. The story follows Elise as she visits her childhood home to face the literal and metaphorical demons which remain there. Wannell and director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) guide the audience through the real, human tragedies which plagued Elise’s childhood, but somehow kept things light through the kitschy humor we expect from Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Wannell). This film does what previous installments had not, both by diving even deeper into the origin of Elise Rainer and by rooting some of the evil audiences had to witness in reality. Childhood abuse and domestic violence are the real horrors here. Watching Elise Rainer face her own real-world past proved that her strength extended well-beyond her competency as a parapsychologist. Lin Shaye’s performance in both the eerie scenes and the heartbreaking ones stole the show, which is essential for the successful execution of an origin story.
What makes this film unique, aside from drawing from real life scenarios and trauma, is this installment served as a prequel to the first film and a sequel to the third. Based on the content, this film could function neatly as an end to the series due to the repeated references and links to the other films. It answers many of the questions left by the other movies in the franchise and neatly explains away the last nagging issues without opening too many of its own plot holes.Functionally speaking, the film didn’t drift far from James Wan’s influence. Robitel kept the staples of the franchise alive by ensuring this Insidious installment was heavy on jump scares, light on gore, and featured a variety of disturbing images. Robitel augmented the formula by adding his own touches and flair for the dramatic. He utilized fake-outs exceptionally well in order to build tension and keep audiences on their toes. The timing and pacing of storytelling were exceptional across the board. As usual, the effects were remarkably well done and sufficiently disturbing. What’s more, the tie-ins to previous films were obvious enough for casual viewers to follow, but not so glaring as to frustrate fans of the franchise. There were a few predictable moments in the film, but the surprises far outweighed them in both frequency and impact.
Overall, if you enjoyed prior films in this series you’ll want to make time to watch Insidious: The Last Key. Learning more about Elise, which is arguably the high point of the franchise, makes the film worth it. Additionally, this feature is far and away better than Insidious: Chapter 3 and manages to recapture the magic of the original in a more realistic, and subsequently far more horrifying way.
WICKED RATING: 7/10
Director: Adam Robitel
Writer: Leigh Whannell
Release: January 5, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Blumhouse Productions, Entertainment One, LStar Capital and Stage 6 Films
Budget: $10 Million
Length: 103 minutes
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Horror, Thriller