FILM REVIEW – INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. With Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Bruce Davison, Kirk Acevedo. Written by Leigh Whannell. Directed by Adam Robitel. Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence, and terror, and brief strong language. 103 minutes.
INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, the latest installment of the “Insidious” franchise, makes no more sense than any of the other films in the series especially since this one – the fourth – is apparently a prequel to the first one. Suffice to say those who are easily scared, not bothered by gaps in narrative logic, or are fans of Lin Shaye, who plays ghost hunter Elise Rainier, will treat it as the film event of the year. Or at least the first week of January.
It turns out Elise has been having visions since she was a child and seems to have let loose some sort of demon on her household, although whether her father (Josh Stewart) would have been a sadistic brute anyway is an open question. Now Ted Gara (Kirk Acevedo), the new owner of her old family home near a prison in New Mexico, is being haunted and asks for her help. So she shows up with her sidekicks Specs (series writer Leigh Whannel) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) and attempts to get to the bottom of the mystery.
A lot of the film involves various characters going down to the dark (naturally) basement and confronting one surprise or another. If you watch this on DVD or streaming video in a month or two there will be moments you’ll want to pause the movie and say, “Wait a second, that makes no sense.” In the theater, though, you just have to go with it.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the film is what it says about families. When young Elise runs away from home, she leaves her brother Christian behind. Now, years later, they meet again only Christian (Bruce Davison) wants nothing to do with her. Yet his own daughters are fascinated by the aunt they never met and one of them has a secret of her own. Elise is also burdened by the guilt she has for feeling she was responsible for the death of her mother (Tessa Ferrer). It says something about the film that Davison and Ferrer turn in the film’s two best performances and also have a minimal amount of screentime.
The scares are the “pop out and say ‘Boo!’” variety, which is the cinematic equivalent of sneaking up on someone. There’s no deep dread or eerieness here, just the sense of people who have lucked into a profitable franchise and are milking it for all its worth. There’s even a cameo by a couple from previous entries allowing this to tie into the first movie, proving that this is a gift that keeps on giving.
Blumhouse Productions has shown Hollywood how to make low-budget horror movies that are profitable, scoring not only with “Paranormal Activity” but with the truly creepy “Sinister” and the acidly satiric “The Purge” and its sequels. In terms of the bottom line, the “Insidious” films have to be considered a success, but as entries into the venerable haunted house genre of movies, they are also-rans. This may be above average for the series, but that’s still only a C-plus.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.