Insidious: The Last Key marks the fourth installment in Blumhouse’s Insidious franchise. Directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan), with a script from franchise co-creator Leigh Whannell, The Last Key brings Elise (Lin Shaye) back home to Five Keys, New Mexico to face the ghosts of her past and tackle her most personal haunting yet. The most recent chapter even promises to drop audiences closer to the terror with haptic technology that creates a fully immersive horror experience. Though access to the 4-D screenings is limited, the film still boasts 103 minutes of spooks, scares, and screams no matter your format.

Created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, The Insidious series has grossed over $300 million worldwide, to date. While James Wan is only credited with directing the first two installments, Leigh Whannell has served as screenwriter for all four films (and director of Insidious Chapter 3). The films follow the exploits of Demonologist Elise Reiner and her assistants Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) as they help families effected by intrusive supernatural entities. This most recent entry into the Insidious catalog brings Elise face-to-face with the most powerful spirit she has ever encountered. One she is responsible for unleashing some years ago…

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Bringing us back to 1953, Insidious: The Last Key opens with an extended introductory scene depicting a childhood marred by pain and fear. Elise, locked in the basement by her father, is confronted by a malevolent spirit. She unknowingly sets free a presence that murders her mother, leaving Elise and her younger brother Christian in the hands of their abusive father. Though this is clearly a tragic and effecting moment in Elise‘s life, as an adult she only remembers fragments of that time. The monsters of her childhood, both physical and ethereal, seem like nothing more than a bad dream. It isn’t until she receives a distress call from the current owner of her childhood home that she is forced to fully confront the darkness that lurks in the recesses of her memory.

Exploring her old family home, Elise slowly remembers details of her upbringing that were until recently, locked away in her mind. From room to room she is reminded of torture and heartache at the hands of her father. Spirits both innocent and sinister materialize as she and the team move from floor to floor toward the base of the menacing energy. In town, Elise is confronted by a real-life ghost from her past: her brother Christian. Never forgiving her for abandoning him with their sadistic father, Christian asks Elise to disappear and leave him and his daughters alone. Unfortunately, one of his daughters is pulled into the further by an evil spirit, with no hope of returning. Unable to allow this force to claim another life, Elise looks to the ghosts that haunt the home for help banishing this in-human monster.

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Despite the breadth of talent behind this film, Insidious: The Last Key is a monster movie without a fully developed monster. While I have no doubt that everyone involved in the film is fully aware of the monster’s strengths and weaknesses, that information (sadly) did not make it’s way onto the screen. There is true brilliance in key plot points that call into question Elise‘s ability to judge fantasy from reality after years of exploring The Further. There are clever cinematic comparisons between the monster she escaped and the monster that calls her back, but like a clairvoyant struggling to read the stars, the vision is unclear.

Elise and Christian‘s childhood home is saddled next to the prison their father guards. Through decades of capital punishment and brutality, there is no shortage of specters for Elise to encounter. In fact, when returning home she remarks that there are so many spirits swirling around the house, it’s hard to decipher which are good and which are evil. The initial trailer released for Insidious: The Last Key showed hundreds of spirits in The Further emerging from their jail cells, as though some grim warden had freed them. This scene, and any reference to his ability as a “Gatekeeper” to a world of horrors was sorely missed. Again, there are some very interesting turns in this film that promise a big payoff but unfortunately, that deeper, richer exploration of the big baddies inhabiting the world of Insidious is tragically absent from the film.

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Insidious (2010) has remained one of the most effective “haunted house” films of the last ten years. Fully flushed out ideas, presented in a dazzlingly balance of clarity and mystery. A family exhausted by seemingly unstoppable demons enlists the help of a psychic that remains eternally optimistic despite her knowledge of this world’s darkest secrets. And jump scares matched only by an equally terrifying score! That said, sequels are usually quite successful at the box office, despite a law of diminishing returns for each subsequent installment’s plot. Sadly, Insidious: The Last Key is not immune to this criticism.

1.5 / 4 eberts

 

Insidious: The Last Key opened to theaters January 5, 2018. Have you had a chance to see the film? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or on Twitter, and Facebook.