Insidious: The Last Key is my first experience with an Insidious movie, but it’s the fourth in the series and the second when all the movies are viewed in chronological order. It’s a sequel to Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) and a prequel to Insidious (2010). It’s not that confusing.
In fact, the real charm to these long-running low-budget horror franchises (Saw, The Conjuring) and their ’80s counterparts before them (Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser and Halloween) is that they maintain a loose, hyper-convoluted continuity where each movie finds a way to expand on the fictional environment of murder and mayhem.
As a first-timer, the knowledge that I had missed three prior films made certain characters feel more important, and made me more inclined to go home afterward and read the Wikipedia articles for previous movies. Were I more into horror, maybe I’d have even watched the other three movie. But, to be honest, Insidious: The Last Key provided all the scary-faced demons and jump scares I need for the next nine months or so.
It picks up where Chapter 3 left off, with paranormal psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell, who has written the entire series as well as much of the Saw franchise) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) working as ghost hunters for hire. At this point, the series seems to belong to Shaye and she’s always fun to watch, a very unique heroine in both age and confidence. Oh, sure, her performance is keyed to “knows this is batshit silly and enjoys every second of it,” but so is the entire movie. It’s better off for it.
Most of this movie is about revealing Elise’s backstory growing up with an abusive father in New Mexico. Her father was a guard at a maximum-security prison where the electric-chair executions would cause the power in their little house to go out. Little Elise – who sees ghosts all the time – accidentally lets an evil being named Keyface into her home. Keyface kills her mother and haunts the home until present day, when Elsie and her team are called back to help solve a haunting in her childhood home.
The plot is poorly paced, with a number of twists that kind of come out of nowhere, including long-lost family and “maybe that dying girl wasn’t a ghost after all” stuff. Never boring, just dumb. That’s OK because boring is the worst thing a film can be and Insidious: The Last Key is never boring.
It’s the kind of horror film with an overbearing score that tells you precisely when to close your eyes or, if you’re of the type, lean closer to the screen and breathe in a scream.
What are you expecting? It’s January 5. Critics joke that January is a graveyard month where all the new movies are either wide-releases of Oscar contenders critics have seen already or movies so lousy that the studios just wanted to throw them on the screen when competition is low.
My colleague Richard Propes (The Independent Critic) joked:
“”It would have to be a little demoralizing as a filmmaker; I mean, I’m sure the paycheck is still mighty fine…but imagine being told by a studio “Hey, yeah. We’re going to release your film!” only to have that followed by “the first week of January.””
Insidious: The Last Key is pure January-release bait and the best kind. Elise is a unique heroine, Specs and Tucker are odd and sometimes funny, the monsters are spooky-looking and nothing is especially challenging. There are no pretensions here outside of the fact that other films in the series exist and, well, maybe you’ve seen them. Even if you haven’t, there are charms here in this C-grade January ghost story.