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[Review] ‘Insidious: The Last Key’ Plays It Too Safe

[Review] ‘Insidious: The Last Key’ Plays It Too Safe

As far as modern horror franchises go, Insidious is arguably one of the better ones in terms of both quality and scare factor. After bursting on to the scene back in 2011 with Insidious, the series suffered from a sophomore slump in 2013’s goofy sequel Insidious: Chapter 2 before delivering 2015’s surprisingly solid prequel Insidious: Chapter 3. The first two films were directed by James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring), but franchise screenwriter Leigh Whannell (he has written all four films) took over directing duty for the third installment. This weekend sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key, the sequel to the prequel of the first film, which is directed by series newcomer Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan). The film provides the requisite number of jump scares and an affecting performance from Lin Shaye but unfortunately fails to add anything substantial to the franchise, making the existence of yet another prequel rather perplexing.

The film begins with a lengthy prologue that gives viewers a taste of Elise Rainier’s (Shaye, perfect as always) childhood in Five Keys, New Mexico. Due to the fact that she lives next door to a penitentiary that routinely executes convicts, Elise is frequently visited by the spirits of the dead, much to the chagrin of her abusive prison warden father (The Collector‘s Josh Stewart). One of these visits leaves her brother Christian traumatized and Elise locked in the basement with an evil entity that beckons her to unlock a hidden door. She does, and tragedy befalls her family.

Flash forward to 2010 (shortly after the events of Chapter 3), and Elise and her two tech assistants Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Whannell, pulling double-duty as actor-screenwriter once again) receive a phone call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), who is currently living in Elise’s childhood house. His claims of ghostly apparitions bring Elise back to the home she thought she had left behind. The paranormal investigation also reunites her with her estranged brother (Bruce Davison) and his two daughters (Resident Evil: Extinction‘s Spencer Locke and American Crime‘s Caitlin Gerard), making Elise’s past the primary focus of the film.

Whannell tries to tackle a lot in the film’s 100 minutes, but he is only moderately successful. The scenes of Elise’s childhood add a few layers to a character who has become the heart and soul of this franchise (despite dying at the end of the first film) and prove to be the most engaging, but they can’t help but come across as superficial. One has to wonder why Whannell felt this story needed to be told, as it doesn’t add anything particularly new to Elise’s character other than an abusive backstory. The script doesn’t linger on the abuse, but it also doesn’t give it the appropriate amount of attention that such heavy subject matter deserves, opting to gloss over a lot of it in favor of getting to the next scare. The present-day scenes with her brother and nieces don’t fare much better due to the fact that they too feel rushed and seem to exist solely to set the younger characters up for a future sequel (especially given one of the niece’s confessions in the third act).

The franchise’s trademark comedy from Tucker and Specs, a point of contention among viewers, is back in full force. Some scenes inspire chuckles, but others (like those in which Tucker and Specs flirt with Elise’s nieces) are cringe-worthy. I’ve never been opposed to the comedy from the duo in previous Insidious films, but it does get to be a bit much in The Last Key as it breaks any and all tension that Robitel has previously built up.

Many of the narrative proceedings in The Last Key are par for the course for an Insidious film, right down to the third act journey into the Further, the film’s version of purgatory. Lest you think that Whannell has run out of ideas, rest assured that he still has one or two tricks up his sleeves. There was one plot development that inspired a collective gasp from the audience. Had the film continued with surprises like that it would have earned a higher score. Sadly, the film doesn’t stick with this different direction and disappointingly reverts back to the expected narrative path. It’s a flash of innovation in an otherwise by-the-numbers picture.

If it feels like I’m being harsh on the film, it’s only because I am a genuine fan of this series (I have even grown to appreciate Chapter 2 over time) and expect more from it. For all of its shortcomings though, there is enough to like about The Last Key. Robitel proves to be a worthy addition, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise considering his impressive work on The Taking of Deborah Logan, one of the better surprises to come out of 2014. He and cinematographer Toby Oliver capture the series’ aesthetic quite nicely (gotta love those tracking shots where a ghost happens to just be standing in the background) and manage to have some fun with the jump scares. One set piece in a tunnel is particularly clever in how it toys with audience expectations. Joseph Bishara’s signature violin score is curiously missing from the film however (curious because Bishara did compose the score for The Last Key), replaced with a somewhat generic score that diminishes the suspense. It makes sense that he would want to try something new, but his screeching violins are sorely missed.

One area where The Last Key does improve upon its immediate predecessor is in its villain. As embodied by Javier Botet (It) more menacing presence than “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” from Chapter 3. The creature design for the antagonist is top notch and Robitel uses it to its full advantage, even working in a nifty homage to A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s a shame we don’t get to see more of KeyFace before the finale though, especially since the marketing has already spoiled his appearance. As great as Botet is, the film belongs to Shaye, who has made Elise one of the best final girls in horror history. It’s clear Whannell knows he wrote himself into a corner by killing her of at the end of Insidious, which is why half of the films in this series are prequels. It’s somewhat of a miracle that we have a female septuagenarian headlining a horror franchise in 2017, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Why we haven’t received a true sequel to Insidious: Chapter 2 (especially after that deliciously creepy cliffhanger) is beyond me, but here we are. Insidious: The Last Key is a serviceable prequel, but it is also the weakest entry in the franchise because it fails to do anything new with the property (Chapter 3 didn’t really do anything new either, but the story was more compelling). The Last Key opts to play it safe and offer up more of the same. If you’re looking for a fun jump-scare-a-thon that will keep your attention for 100 minutes, you could do a lot worse, especially when you take Shaye’s heartfelt performance into consideration. Given the way The Last Key ends, at least we’re all but guaranteed a true sequel to Chapter 2 if another installment is made. Maybe that one will inject some fresh ideas into this series.

Insidious: The Last Key Review



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COMMENTS

65 Comments
  • xcalibrate ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    Sorry but any reviewer who thinks that Chapter 3 is ‘surprisingly solid’, then that reviewers opinion need not be taken seriously for this newest outing.

    Insidious ran out of ideas after the first film. Like the impotent man, the series blew its load too early.

    • Nahuel Benvenuto

      i have yet to watch it (thanks for the spoilers yet again btw, BD) but i am pretty sure i will only watch the first one

      • I didn’t think it was a faux pas to spoil a 2-year-old movie in the review for its sequel…..

        • Vesuvian Villain

          *hands mic to Trace so that he may drop it*

    • Sorry you feel that way! Feel free to disregard my opinion entirely. =)

    • Saturn

      If the man is impotent how did he blow his load too early?

      • xcalibrate ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Hmmmmm… erm… er… ahem… don’t over think it. 😉

    • What is so god damn bad about that movie? Had it been an entirely different ghost story on its own it’d be considered a good horror film. It is an unnecessary movie but if you wanna dive deeper into the world they aren’t bad installments to follow, after all Insidious was always praised more for its creep factor rather than the jumpscares. I thought all 3 previous movies were perfectly unsettling and creepy, but we hold expectations too high for these movies considering how many let down PG-13 movies we are given

      • xcalibrate ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

        Chapter 3 has more ‘jump scares’ than scares. It’s awful. As are most of the horror films of the recent day. A ‘jump scare’ doesn’t scare, it mearly startles. It’s a cheap tactic from the uninventive. The law of diminishing returns certainly applies here.

        PG-13 is killing the horror genre.

        Lastly, Honeypie, calm down. You enjoyed it. More power to you.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    meh

  • Khy

    What a pity. The original was one of the few modern films that ever got under my skin. I thought Adam Robitel would take the series to new heights of frights after what he did with The Taking Of Deborah Logan but it appears not to be the case. It seems as if “The Last Key” may very well be the last…pity, I also want to see an actual follow up to Insidious Chapter 2.

    • ME TOO

      • nrkist

        I don’t know how this franchise has survived so long. It was comically bad at every turn with the original film. “The Further”…really?! A name that is both bland and lame AND so inept it’s hilarious. It was like a stand-in phrase in an early script that everyone thought they were going to go back and properly name, and then realized they really didn’t care enough to invest that much effort.

        Also, the revelation of this information, all piled in the last minutes of a bland film, is followed by, “now lets put on all these gas-mask props…because…it might look cool and this film is really dragging at this point and we really don’t want people to consider the goofy block of exposition that just transpired.”

        • I respectfully disagree with you. I love the first one and I know the third act journey into the Further gets a lot of hate but I love it. The whole high school theater aesthetic of it works for me, though I understand why it takes some people out of the film entirely. Agree on the exposition dumps though. That is the bulk of Shaye’s dialogue and while it is necessary it isn’t super well handled.

  • Tronald Dump

    PG13

  • Jack Derwent

    I’m still waiting for the part 2 cliffhanger to be resolved.

    • I don’t remember it! What happened? Wasn’t an introduction to Insidious 3?

      • Creepshow

        Chapter 3 was a prequel. Elise was still a ghost at the end of 2, and was gonna team up with the Geek Squad. I guess they ignored it because that didn’t sound very enticing.

      • Jack Derwent

        Elise was a ghost and was horrified at something that was possessing a girl but we didn’t see what.

  • Mr. Red Right Hand

    it’s a pg13 prequel – why is this a shock to anyone

  • Francesco Falciani

    i think the problem here is that the last key is another fucking prequel…i think it’s time they have to be brave enough to make a real Sequel…Prequels suck for the most part…when we already know how the story ends there’s no much surprise left.

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  • Dayglo

    Weakest entry in a really good horror franchise. Crappy PG13 jump scares and even crappier dialogue. Lin Shaye couldn’t save it. I felt embarrassed for her.
    “She’s the psychic and we’re the sidekicks!” Enough, already.

    • Saturn

      Are they lyrics from a terrible rap song played over the end credits by any chance?

  • Khy

    I just finished watching “The Last Key” and in all honesty it was better than I expected- namely because I went in with pretty low expectations. I enjoyed seeing Elise’s upbringing, learning about her family, basically seeing the origin of her powers- but ultimately alot of it was robbed because the writing didn’t truly allow for exploration. I think as much as Whannell loves writing him and his buddy into these movies- they definitely should’ve let this be Elise’s solo adventure because Tucker and Specks takes away HUGELY from what is a very intimate one person story. I understand they want to infuse some humor but what they offer is sophomoric drivel that becomes tiring- it’s just not funny. Them slobbering all over Elise nieces wasn’t funny to me either just very cheap and cliche. Then that kiss at the end…Jesus Whannell- I’m sure you had a grand ole’ time writing that.

    The fact the movie tries to be both this intimate and self-discovering odyssy for Elise while also trying to pack in the “typical” Insidious elements (awkward humor being the biggest here) just doesn’t work. I also felt like the “Keyface demon” was defeated way too fast and easy. But considering he was a later addition to the film, I can overlook that a bit.

    I really would have liked to know how this film would’ve turned out if Lin Shaye didn’t have to share this movie with two idiots.

    I can see what Robitel was trying to go for- but the writing was a huge roadblock that prevented him from getting there.

  • Joe-banger

    Nice article Trace It almost makes me not want to see this film, but I will see it eventually. I’m happy that you did not give the film away either. SPOILERS SUCK!!

    • Saturn

      Yes.
      Yes they do.

  • Carl Chrystan

    Keys for fingertips. That’s just f***ing scary, man! I mean,they could get into your house! Does the left hand have car keys? That’s even scarier!

    • Saturn

      If you have keys for fingers, do you still pick your nose?

      • Carl Chrystan

        I think you’d be more likely to put your hand in your mouth, particularly if you have lockjaw (BADUM-TISH!!!)

        • Saturn

          Key pum coming.

          • Carl Chrystan

            I might do, as long as you don’t fob me off or yale at me.

          • Saturn

            Of course I won’t!
            Unless of course you rock out with your lock out….
            Being able to make bad puns about keys is a great skill that can open a lot of doors for you, if that’s a path you want to follow…
            Just remember though not to try and open a door with the wrong key 3 times, because that’s pad lock…..

            ****ducks****

          • Carl Chrystan

            Yeah, I reckon you’re just yanking my chain there! Besides, I’d greatly fear any change or opportunities…I’d be morticefied at the lack of security and it’d be so easy to take a tumbler!

          • Saturn

            Touche!

            I guess there are at least 2 of us into the sport of lock picking?

    • Evan3

      How I wish it was one of those remote keys you use to unlock car doors.

      “Where’s the demon”

      *Beep Beep*

      “IT’S COMING!”

  • Rohan

    Doug Jones was in the Shape of Water, not Javier Botet.

    • Ack. You are correct. Thank you for the correction! It’s been fixed. =)

      • Rohan

        No problem, just helping out!

  • markajacoby

    Have always said the first half of “Insidious” is one of the creepiest movies I’ve seen in a VERY long time – and then the “GEEK SQUAD” (Tucker and Specs) shows up and the movie is absolutely ruined. Haven’t watched another of the movies since, and reading that they’re back – I won’t see this one either!!!

    • Dayglo

      The comic relief from Tucker and Specs was simply painful. So, the resulting product is an unscary horror film punctuated by unfunny comedy. Lose/lose.

    • Khy

      They are such a black stain on an otherwise good series.

    • Rick-Taylor

      They are in every movie in the series.

  • Carl Chrystan

    OK, so there has been five articles within the same 24/48 hours with reference to the same film.. Does this website have some kind of corporate agreement to do so with these studios? Not saying that there’s anything wrong with that; just asking.

    • Nope. We do interviews and stuff months in advance (usually during the film’s production) and release them closer to the films release date since they’re more likely to get read then. We had Kalyn write a review but I wanted to write one too since I felt differently (she thought it was the best in the franchise and I thought it was the weakest).

      • Creepshow

        After seeing the movie, I’m with you on all points. The missing score is just baffling, and Specs/Tucker were just plain grimy weirdos. I can say that I officially had enough of this series.

        • And I’ve NEVER really had an issue with Specs and Tucker before this installment. I’ve welcomed their brief moments of levity and never thought it got out of hand. But it was the creepy romance/flirtation with Spencer Locke which was the dealbreaker for me. It was just weird.

          • Creepshow

            Yup, absolutely. I tolerated them, because eventually they did add some sort of help to Elise. But they were just god awful in every scene, and made you feel awkward. The movie wasn’t very good, but it could have definitely been better without them. I was hoping that was going to be the case, when Elise said she needed to go alone. But nope, two seconds later they are along for the ride. What a let down.

          • Khy

            Whannell needs to be smacked for writing that kiss. Ew.

          • Creepshow

            “She’s psychic. We’re sidekick.” – Harderp har har!

            I bet those idiots improvised most of their lines. And now the world knows how unfunny and fucking lame they are in real life.

          • Khy

            I tried to force myself to laugh…It was really…really embarrassing.

      • Carl Chrystan

        Yeah, just ignore me, dude, I become amateur troll when I’ve had a drink!

  • Dayglo

    Lin Shaye is a 74-year-old actress. It’s cool to see a pivot from the standard horror tropes of putting kids and teens in charge.

    • Saturn

      Indeed, say what you will about the franchise (personally I like it – although the new one isn’t out over here in Blighty yet so cannot comment on the quality of that one) it does go to prove one thing : an audience IS willing to watch movies with actors of a: the female variety, and b: in their golden years.

      Would I watch a slasher movie which was set in an old folk’s home? YES.
      Would I watch a possession movie based at a religious school for girls? YES.
      Would I watch a zombie movie (not including Resi Evil, as it’s already out there) with a female protagonist, ala Ash? YES.
      Would I watch an alien invasion movie, with the hero being black? YES.
      Would I watch a new take on something like GOONIES/MONSTER SQUAD with a bunch of asian kids? YES.

      Hollywood – stop playing it safe. Diversify – if it’s good we will watch it.
      But will the SJW’s stop bleating on that the Ghostbusters reboot flopped due to misogynistic white males.
      Will they stop with the “oh people complain about Star Wars because of the female and black protagonists” – when they say people, they still mean white males.

      As a white male myself (not that I consider it really to be relevant, but it seems other liberal snowflakes seem to want to make it so – while saying the race of others is totally not relevant, it’s 2018 you know!) I thought the GB reboot was okay, but not a patch on the original movie. Not because I’m sexist – but because that’s the fact of the matter, compared to the original movie it wasn’t up to much. Nowt to do with me looking down my nose at a bunch of people with differing chromosomes.
      The STAR WARS issue – do I give a toss that the main leads are female and black? No. I don’t care. When I say that the new movies aren’t a patch on the original trilogy it’s because they are NOT, nothing to do with the leads in the movies. Let’s be honest, Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. Rey is no Luke, and Fin is no Han Solo. And yeah, I know they aren’t supposed to be, but come on – stronger characters people, who people will really remember as iconic in years to come?

      So I say Hollywood – give us diversity – but make sure it’s worth it……..

      • Khy

        Aww you’re my favorite “white male” Saturn. 😉

        And agreed 100^

        • Saturn

          Cheers.
          🙂

      • Dayglo

        Would I watch a horror film set in an old folks home? Probably. Would I watch a porn film set in a hospice? Let me get back to you on that one …

        • Saturn

          You better do – I’ve already invested in a new camcorder and adult diapers!

  • Rick-Taylor

    For me, the only good movie was the first half of the first film. Everything after that was silly. But, I am glad that people do like this series and like it enough to warrant a few sequels.

  • DukeStKing

    It needed about 20 minutes edited out. 7/10.

  • Nicolas Caiveau

    I haven’t seen it yet, but I thought Insidious 2 was better than 1 and Insidious 3 was the weakest. So… I may like this one.

  • Rick-Taylor

    I just saw it. It was just as I thought it would be. Some of the writing was pretty bad, like comically bad. All of the scary parts were jump scares that were telegraphed. The direction was pretty good.

  • Evan3


    If it feels like I’m being harsh on the film, it’s only because I am a
    genuine fan of this series (I have even grown to appreciate Chapter 2 over time) and expect more from it” This encapsulates my feelings of movies. I absolutely hate when people are like “I’m a fan of franchise X – therefore I will watch any entry regardless of how it looks, the motives for making it, diminishing returns, etc.”

    When you love a franchise, you absolutely should demand the best for it and from those making it. In other words, adopt higher standards. Glad this is something we share in loving film.

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