By: Christian Harding (Three Beers) –
Of all the mainstream horror franchises still going on, the Insidious films are in a curious position: the series is generally well liked within the horror fan community and casual audiences seem to respond well enough to them, but there’s not really any film in the franchise that’s regarded as being better than merely good, and none that really stand head and shoulders above the rest as a true benchmark for the franchise. But that isn’t always a necessity for a horror film franchise, and there have been some that have gone on long after they’ve run out of things to do (we’re looking at you Paranormal Activity and Saw…). Besides, based on the extremely impressive year Blumhouse had in 2017 with the trifecta of Split, Get Out, and Happy Death Day all exceeding expectations both financially and critically, it’s pretty safe to say that the famed horror studio has earned the benefit of the doubt from us. Did they let us down this time? Stay tuned after the jump.
“I would have put Get Out on my “best of the year” three times if I could have! Best film made in my lifetime, hands down.”
Somewhere in between the original Insidious film and The Last Key, this series has suddenly evolved into a series of star vehicles for actress Lin Shaye, and this reviewer is completely on board with that, to say nothing of the rarity that a current horror franchise unironically being headlined by a 74 year old woman. But given the fate of her character at the end of the first film, the Insidious franchise has had to continually jump around with timelines to ensure we keep seeing Shaye in the role of paranormal ghost hunter Elise Rainier, but it’s been relatively easy to follow up to this point.
This entry takes place between the third and first films (hmm, maybe I should take back what I just said about the timelines being easy to follow) and finds Elise returning to her childhood home after years of self-imposed exile. There, she must deal with all manner of spooky paranormal activity, all the while coping with some traumatic childhood memories, both in equal measures. The increased budget over the course of these four films is used effectively here and the overall details/designs of the supernatural worlds being visited in this series have improved dramatically ever since we got stuck with the under lit and fog machine-heavy interiors of the first film. Add to that a pretty strong opening fifteen minute sequence depicting what Elise as a young woman had to deal with growing up with her abilities whilst living inside of a dysfunctional, broken family unit and you’ve got a pretty intriguing setup for a potentially satisfying horror sequel. And how do the creative minds at play handle all of these elements laying out on the table for them…
Before we even get to typical, generic jump scares du jour, let’s first discuss all the cringe-worthy forced humor and comedic relief in this film. In addition to Lin Shaye returning in the lead role as Elise, her two “wacky” assistants Tucker and Specs (once again played by Angus Sampson and writer of The Last Key, Leigh Wannell) are back again, and boy howdy are just as pandering and insufferable as they’ve ever been. These two have always been among the weakest elements from this franchise, but never before have they been as up front and center as they are in this one, and man does their shtick get old fast. But it’s not necessarily the fault of the performers themselves; Whannell has always been a writer first and actor second, but he was passable enough in the original Saw film; and Angus Sampson has done some pretty impressive work on television, most notably in the second season of Fargo.
But quite literally none of the material written for these two characters works at all, and in addition to completely deflating the tension at any given moment, there are even some points where it reaches far beyond being merely unfunny and cringe-worthy (though there’s plenty of that to be sure), and their behavior crosses into downright predatory and uncomfortable territory at times (pretty much anytime they share the screen with a female character other than Elise). The prospect of having humorous elements in an otherwise very serious horror film can work and has done so many times in the past; but degree of humor we’re dealing with in Insidious: The Last Key is Michael Bay Transformers levels of forced and unnecessary. No thank you.
Since we’ve gotten the critique that I found uniquely specific to this one horror franchise in particular, we can now move onto the main criticism that’s still reliably infected most of the mainstream horror outings of the century: bland and predictable scares. While there’s nothing in this film that I found to be particularly awful or poorly done – I was actually quite appreciative of this film’s method of constructing prolonged sequences that continued to build tension over the course of several minutes – the payoffs themselves are always the same and don’t contain all that many surprises in and of themselves (apart from one unexpected story element that’s soon undercut by introducing a far less interesting twist). I’ll give Insidious: The Last Key some credit for not being terribly obnoxious or laughable in the scares department, but now that we’re four films into this series, it wouldn’t hurt for the creative minds behind the franchise to start taking a few more chances and not play everything so blandly safe all the time.
The sister of Supreme Leader Snoke has been getting a lot of work ever since her brother broke into the big leagues.
At the end of the day, Insidious: The Last Key is what it is. For the fourth film in a horror franchise released during the first weekend of January, the fact that we got anything remotely passable is like a belated Christmas miracle. Casual viewers and non-horror fans likely won’t find much of anything to respond to here, but genre aficionados and people who really responded to the first three Insidious films may very well get enough out of it to find it worth their time. And if Star Wars: The Last Jedi is still sold out or there aren’t any of the half dozen really interesting looking awards contenders playing nearby, you could probably do a lot worse than this for an alternative. Take that however you like.
Insidious: The Last Key (2018) Drinking Game
Do a Shot: for each jump scare.
Do another Shot: for every reference to a past film in the series.
Shotgun a Beer: when (not if, *when*) the awkward forced comedic relief starts to wear thin.
Chug a Beer: if you correctly guess both of the “big, shocking” reveals ahead of time.