INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018) Drags Once Popular Horror Franchise Further into Obscurity

1

insidious last key

The spirit world where all the dark and nasty things happen in the INSIDIOUS movies is called “the Further,” making it the perfect name for how this series has trended, further into obscurity.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (2018) is the fourth INSIDIOUS movie and the second straight film in the series to be an underwhelming shadow of its original namesake.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is also the second straight prequel in the series, providing additional back story for Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), the demon hunting character in the original movie, who incidentally died at the end of that film.  Hence, the need for prequels, I guess, although Elise Rainier was never my favorite part of the original INSIDIOUS (2010), which is half the reason why the prequels don’t work all that well. Elise Rainier just isn’t that interesting a character. On the other hand, Lin Shaye who plays Rainier is very good in the role, and her performances in these films is one of the reasons none of the films have been flat-out awful.

This one begins with Elise’s childhood, as we see her and her younger brother living in a modest 1950s home with their parents.  Her father Gerald Rainier (Josh Stewart) is a sadistic bastard who deals with Elise’s “gift” of seeing spirits by punishing her, specifically by beating her and locking her in the basement.

The action jumps ahead to 2010, the year in which the events from the first movie occurred, and after the events depicted in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015).  Elise receives a phone call from a man seeking help with strange goings-on inside his house, but when he reveals that he lives in the house she grew up in, where her father beat her, she declines his offer. She has too many scars to return there.

But of course, since this is a horror movie, she changes her mind, and with her two sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), two characters who have appeared in the entire series and are there to provide comic relief, heads off to New Mexico to wage war with the demons still haunting her house.  And while there, she learns more about what really was going on inside her house when she was a young girl.

The weakest part of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is its story, which is a yawnfest.  The strongest part is the acting, especially the performances by Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, and Angus Sampson, who all reprise their familiar roles and as such come off like three likable characters from a TV series you enjoy, but this time they’re stuck in a particularly mediocre episode.

The uninspiring story was written by Leigh Whannell, who also plays Specs in the film. Whannell wrote all four INSIDIOUS movies as well as the first three SAW movies.  He also starred in the SAW movies as well.

Whannell’s scripts for the first two INSIDIOUS movies were very good, while the latter two were simply meh.  INSIDIOUS is one of my favorite horror movies of the last ten years, and even that first film had its flaws, but I saw it in a packed theater, and the screams from the audience were so loud, it was the most fun I had watching a horror movie with an audience in years.

The sequel, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 (2013) wasn’t half bad, and the story it told, since it was a direct sequel to the first movie, made sense and had some interesting tie-ins with the first one.  It wasn’t as good, but it wasn’t that bad either.  Of course, probably the biggest reason for the success of these two movies was that they were directed by James Wan.

Leigh Whannell actually wrote and directed INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, the first prequel in the series, and this film, probably the weakest in the series, really didn’t resonate at all. Here, in INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. it’s Adam Robitel sitting in the director’s chair. While the film is professionally crafted, in that there aren’t any awkward or amateurish scenes, there’s also nary a scare to be found.  The creepiest part of this one is not the demons but Josh Stewart’s performance as Elise’s sadistic father Gerald.

Compared to the original INSIDIOUS, which was chock full of scares, INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is a snoozefest.  Other than the cruel workings of Gerald Rainer, the only scares in this one are of the jump scare variety, and there simply aren’t many of those.

The story also doesn’t help.  While it’s fairly interesting to learn more about Elise Rainer, it’s hardly enough material to base an entire movie on.  And the present haunting, the one that brings Elise back to her house in the first place, is largely forgettable.  The story is simply an excuse to get Elise Rainer and her sidekicks Specs and Tucker back on-screen together again.

And the “last key” in the title is a reference to several things in the story, none of which are all that interesting.

As much as I’m not really a fan of the Elise Rainer character, I do enjoy Lin Shaye’s performances in these films.  She adds class and respectability to these stories, and she keeps these films from sinking to lower depths.

I was also never the biggest fan of Specs and Tucker and thought their humor in the first INSIDIOUS movie was out-of-place, but they’ve grown on me.  I enjoyed both Leigh Whannell’s and Angus Sampson’s performances here.  I even laughed at their recurring bad joke in the film, when they introduce themselves, pointing to Elise and saying, “She’s psychic. We’re sidekicks.”

As I said, Josh Stewart is creepy as Gerald Rainier in a small role.  Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke play Elise’s nieces Imogen and Melissa, both of whom seem primed to take over the demon hunting duties should there be more INSIDOUS movies, and since they are both young and beautiful, they attract the attention of both Specs and Tucker.

And Bruce Davison plays Elise’s estranged brother Christian, who wants nothing to do with her because when she left home, she left him alone with their cruel father.  Davison has enjoyed a long and varied career, including a prominent bit as Senator Kelly in the first two X-MEN movies, but I always remember him for his starring role in the original WILLARD (1971), a film that was one of the first horror movies I ever saw at the movies, at the wee young age of seven.  Like Lin Shave, Davison adds respectability to the story.

The Lipstick-Face Demon (Joseph Bishara), whose signature red face makes him look like Darth Maul’s long-lost cousin, was one of my favorite parts of the original movie.  He’s seen in the trailer for INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, but you won’t see him much in the movie.  That’s because he shows up for about half a second.  Had someone written a back story about this guy, now that might have made for a worthwhile sequel.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is not an awful horror movie.  It’s just not a very good one, nor is it all that necessary. Do I really care that much about these characters to learn more back story about them?  Not really.

I for one wouldn’t be disappointed if THE LAST KEY was also the last INSIDIOUS movie.

—END—

 

Advertisements

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 (2015) Moves Series Further Into Mediocrity

2

Insdious-Chapter-3-posterMOVIE REVIEW:  INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 3 (2015)

By Michael Arruda

 

In the INSIDIOUS movies, the demon world where much of the action takes place is known as “the Further.”  This name is apropos, because with INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 now in theaters, if there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that the series has moved further towards mediocrity.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is a prequel to the first two INSIDIOUS movies, and as such, it basically tells two stories.  The story INSIDIOUS fans are most interested in is the background/origin story of an integral character from the first two movies, clairvoyant and demon hunter Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), a character who actually died at the end of the first

movie.  She appeared in the second movie moving about inside the Further.  In INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, we learn more about how she first started fighting demons.

Sort of.

The second story told in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 is the tale of young Quinn (Stefanie Scott) who runs afoul a demon when she tries to contact her deceased mother.  It’s this case that brings Elise into contact with the Further and the evil demons that reside there.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 opens as Quinn visits Elise seeking out her help in order to communicate with her deceased mother.  Elise at first declines, saying she doesn’t do that kind of work anymore, but she gives in and attempts to reach Elise’s mother.  Instead, Elise hears from a demon, a mysterious woman demon who’s been haunting Elise for some time, telling Elise that she is going to kill her.

So, this isn’t the first time that Elise has dealt with demons or the Further, and so the events here aren’t really an “origin” story because Elise has already encountered the demon world.

Against Elise’s advice, Quinn continues to try to contact her mother, and as a result, she attracts the attention of another demon— who knew demons were so active? — known as “The Man Who Can’t Breathe”— who suddenly makes it his mission to haunt and terrorize Quinn and her family.

Eventually, things get so bad that Elise can’t say no any longer, and she takes on the case, setting up the big battle between humans and demons.  Hmm.  Been there.  Done that.  And with much more satisfying results in the first INSIDOUS movie.

The first INSIDIOUS (2010) movie is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade.  INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 2 (2013) wasn’t as good, but it was still mildly entertaining, and it managed to get pretty creative as characters in the sequel went back into events from the first movie giving these scenes added meaning.  It was all pretty neat.

Now comes INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, a prequel that for me, never quite hit its stride.  I’m not a big fan of prequels anyway, but that being said, I had an open mind about this one.  It just never won me over.

For starters, I thought the new demon story featuring Quinn and her family, mostly her caring dad Sean (Dermot Mulroney) was pretty lame.  Quinn has lost her mom recently to cancer, and her dad is struggling to raise her and her younger brother Alex.  These scenes offered nothing new, and I was hard pressed to feel for this family when nothing about them was insightful or refreshing.

And while there are some scares here and there, they are nothing like the scares generated in the original INSIDIOUS.  That film had its the audience screaming out loud.  In INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, the audience barely made a sound.  The scariest scene doesn’t involve a demon at all but an unexpected car accident that provides a quick jolt.

That being said, I do like the way the INSIDIOUS films handle demons and the Further.  The world created inside these INSIDIOUS movies is a creative one, and it’s always creepy and eerie.  A lot of imagination goes into the demons in these movies, and I appreciate this.  I just wish as much imagination went into the human characters in this third installment.  Also, the demons have become progressively less frightening with each episode.

As much as I enjoyed the character of Elise Rainier in the first two movies, one of the reasons I enjoyed her so much was that she was a small part of a bigger picture.  The main characters in the first two movies were the members of Lambert family.  Elise is less effective as a main character.  Plus we already know her fate, as she dies at the end of the first movie.

And when Elise finally goes up against the demons, she defeats them too easily.  These are demons for crying out loud!  To get rid of them, one should have to do more than just give them a good shove and shout “Go away!”

As she was in the first two movies, Lin Shaye is very good as Elise Rainer, the woman who can’t seem to stop tangling with demons.  But is Elise a strong enough character to carry a whole movie on her own?  I’m not so sure about that.

Stefanie Scott is okay as Quinn Brenner, but I was less impressed with Dermot Mulroney’s performance as Quinn’s dad Sean.  I found him whiny and unlikable, and there was something very grating about his performance.

Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell return as amateur ghost hunters Tucker and Specs, and they once more provide the film’s comic relief.  Yet with each successive movie their shtick grows thinner and less funny.

Whannell wrote all three INSIDIOUS movies, and he’s at the helm here for the first time as the director of INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3.  I can’t fault his scripts all that much, because to be honest, I like the demon world he has created in this series.  But in terms of the whole package, the story told in this third segment was much more mediocre than the ones told in the first two movies.

And I realize the movie is entitled INSIDIOUS:  CHAPTER 3, but do we really want movies to play like chapters in a novel?  This approach works with a television series, but not with a movie.

With a TV show, you only have to wait a week for the next episode, or in today’s streaming market, there’s no wait at all.  With a movie, you have to wait a much longer time, usually more than a year.  So, if you’re stuck watching a mediocre “chapter,” with a television show, it’s on to the next episode and it’s no big deal.  You can’t do that with a movie.

Plus, movie tickets cost a decent chunk of change!  Do I really want to shell out $11.00 for a ticket and then settle for an average 90 minutes?  No way!  When I pay for a ticket, I want to see the filmmaker’s best effort.  Always.  Episodic filmmaking is the wrong way to go.  Movies should stand alone, even if they’re part of a series.

Whannell does a decent job at the helm, although I think director James Wan did a better job generating scares in the first two movies.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 benefits from being part of the INSIDIOUS universe.  I like the demons and the world they live in, and I like main character Elise Rainer and watching her take on these evil entities, even if I don’t think she’s a strong enough character to carry a movie.  But the other story of teen Quinn Brenner and how she runs afoul of a demon and eventually needs Elise’s help, never won me over, mostly because it was a retread of things that have happened before.  It’s also not even close to being as scary or as intense as the original film in the series.

INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 isn’t a bad movie, but it is a mediocre one.  The demons in the Further deserve better.

—END—