There’s no evil spirit that demonologist Elise Rainier can’t conquer. Be they dark entities which seek possession, atrophied souls clinging to the realm of the living, or grin-ingrained ghosts drifting aimlessly through The Further, there’s not a single monster who has proven too great of a trial for the famous doctor and her two sidekicks, Tucker and Specs. She’s traveled all over the world, aiding the helpless and protecting the innocent, but now, Elise will come face to face with her biggest challenge yet – her very own childhood home.
Audiences first met Elise back in 2010 with the introduction of the first entry in James Wan’s horror franchise, simply titled Insidious. Fans were introduced to Wan and writer Leigh Whannell’s paranormal world by way of “The Further”, another realm of existence that resides alongside our own, in which passed over spirits and meddlesome ghosts lurk in smoky darkness, waiting for a chance to reconnect with their loved ones. However, there is more in this world of eternal black than just lonely apparitions hoping to reach out to the families who outlived them. Some of these entities have a much more sinister agenda.
That’s where Elise comes in. In 2010 the Lambert family reached out to her in the hopes of curing their son, Dalton, whose once lively persona now seems to carry a shadow over his heart. When doctors fail to provide a reason for Dalton’s worsening sickness, and strange paranormal activity begins to liven the quiet halls of this spooky suburban home, the family begs Elise for help, and she answers the call. Using her gifts as a medium, Elise first makes contact with the spirit world, then enters the realm of The Further, finding and retrieving their lost little boy, but not without paying the price of her own life in the process.
Throughout the course of the following films, some of which serve as prequels, we watch Elise give every last piece of herself to families in need, battling atrocities and ridding evildoers from the land of the living. It seems as though there’s no fiend she can’t conquer – that is, until she’s called upon to revisit her own childhood trauma, and re-enter the girlhood home that has brought her greater pain than any demon could ever dish out. For Elise, slain souls can be tricky, but there’s no tougher monster than the abusive man who raised her all those years ago.
Perhaps the biggest surprise in the fourth installment of the supernatural series, Insidious: The Last Key is how grounded in reality the latest entry actually turns out to be. What started out as an admittedly frightening but altogether playful horror franchise has now morphed into a shockingly insightful commentary on the abuse that so many people have been dealt at the hands of those they hold dear. After all, as Whannell smartly points out with his latest script, the scariest entity many of us have learned to fear in real life isn’t what’s hiding underneath our beds, but rather, the man holding the roof over our heads, and the damage he duels out on a daily basis. Those are the real experiences that haunt us for life.
Director Adam Robitel, known previously for his chilling found footage film The Taking of Deborah Logan, does a terrific job in driving this point home. While on one hand he recognizes the need for iconography in a globally successful franchise such as this, taking it upon himself to add the ‘Key Face Demon’ to the mix in a script which previously had no supernatural Big Bad, he also understands the importance of establishing the film in a more realistic setting to make it more relatable for viewers. Therefore, there’s less time spent in the foggy realm of the Further, and more time spent establishing characters we care about, increasing their value onscreen and thereby making the audience feel more frightened when their lives become endangered.
However, the real star of this production is longtime horror icon Lin Shaye, and it’s a treat that feels long overdue. Although Shaye was always an undoubtedly important title character in the previous films, this is the first time that the story completely revolves around her, and the film is made better for it. It’s Elise’s childhood home that we’re investigating, it’s her secretive past we unfold, and ultimately, the ghost and traces of Elise’s abusive father that morphs into the impossible obstacle to conquer. Clearly, Shaye was meant to carry this series all along, as The Last Key proves to be the best Insidious film since the original debuted almost a decade ago. It’s a franchise that has become a global phenomenon based on its eerie, otherworldly nature, but in the end, it’s the grounding of the characters in a more realistic setting with the sweet-natured and wholly relatable Lin Shaye in the lead role that truly makes inclusion a segment to remember.
Unfortunately for longtime horror fans like this writer, some of the final moments are somewhat easy to predict. It’s just what happens when you spend years and years gobbling up every scary movie you can get your hands on and deconstructing their methods and villains and plot devices. Eventually, you learn the tricks, and you can spot the twists and turns coming a mile away. The Last Key is definitely worth seeing, especially if you’re keyed on finding out what happens next to the iconic demonologist and her side-splittingly funny wacky crew, but fans of the genre might be slightly disappointed to find themselves guessing the ways in which Elise handles her latest battle with the dark world that hides in the shadows of everyday life. Still, it’s truly exciting to see Shaye be given the role she’s always deserved, and Robitel proves to be a worthy director in a franchise that previously only belonged to Wan and Whannell. These folks know a thing or two about keeping the tension heightened, and backing up that surface paranoia with an underbelly of perceptive observation.
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