It’s disheartening to watch a series you love fall apart with a case of onset sequelitis. What’s even worse is when the series’ creator is the culprit. Try as writer Leigh Whannell might, he’s allowed his once terrifying Insidious franchise to quickly sink to direct-to-video quality with the fourth installment, The Last Key. It doesn’t help that James Wan only directed the first two chapters, but even Chapter 3 was better under Whannell’s own direction. Here, director Adam Robitel makes his sophomore film feel more like a freshman attempt with horrible editing, forced humor, and a laughably bad finale.
Kicking off in 1963, a young Elise Rainier (Ava Kolker) is living in a house filled with spirits. The family home is located on the grounds of the New Mexico State Penitentiary in the small town of Five Keys. Her mother Audrey (Tessa Ferrer) believes in Elise’s abilities, but her father Gerald (Josh Stewart) is content with trying to beat it out of her.
In 2010, Elise (Lin Shaye) is living with Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) when she receives a phone call from the terrified Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), who happens to be living in her childhood house; as Elise literally says, “that house was not a home.” Elise travels back to New Mexico to investigate one of the most insidious spirits she’s ever encountered, in spite of her estranged brother (Bruce Davison). But has brought along the help of Specs and Tucker, and discovers that her niece Imogen (Caitlin Gerard) can also astral project which comes in handy when the evil spirit tries to capture Elise in “The Further.”
If all this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve been down this road three times before. Director Robitel is half content with keeping things straight forward — which is when the film works — but Whannell has garnished the script with the series’ worst jokes. Watching Specs and Tucker try to woo Elise’s nieces is not something we should ever have to sit through. It doesn’t help that this entry to the Insidious universe centers around side characters that work best as support. There is way too much Specs, Tucker, and Elise. They come off far better in the other films where they’re called upon for assistance, but none of them have what it takes to carry a film.
The scares are of the expected variety. The camera pans across a dark room and something creepy passes by then it cuts back and it’s gone. Unfortunately, Robitel also relies far too heavily on LOUD NOISES! to scare the audience. It’s the oldest trick in the book and it’s extremely annoying to find this dead horse getting beat to death in an Insidious film. The new monster is also showed way too much. It’s what we don’t see that’s scariest, only proving how lacking producer James Wan’s input was. Even Whannell seems to be on autopilot, probably due to him writing/directing another upcoming Blumhouse horror film. He’s also managed to continue muddling the film’s timeline.
It saddens me that Insidious: The Last Key hopefully lives up to its title and this will be the last. At least we still have the first two films to remind us just how good things used to be.