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.