Director James Wan and his Saw screenwriter/actor Leigh Whannell brought the Insidious franchise to life in 2010 with a relatively effective, well-performed horror film that raked in over $US97 million from a production budget of $US1.5 million. Of course, sequels followed, and while each film has been progressively more financially successful than the one before it, each has been arguably worse than its predecessor. Which brings us to Insidious: The Last Key, a film that, despite some early promise, ends up being perhaps the dullest, most poorly executed film in the series.
Lin Shaye, reprising her role as parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier, gets a lot more to chew on this time around. The Last Key continues on from Chapter 3, itself a prequel to the first few films. Here we get Rainier’s origin story, if you will, exploring via flashback her troubling childhood as a little girl with a disturbing gift, with an abusive father who believes that beating her may bring about normality. As an adult, Rainier receives a call from a man claiming his house is haunted; it just so happens that he lives in her childhood home. Before long, it’s clear that the demons of Rainier’s past are well and truly back.
Wan is back as producer and Whannell returns as both screenwriter and ghost-hunting assistant Specs, with direction this time at the hands of Adam Robitel, whose previous feature was the relatively well received found-footage horror pic The Taking of Deborah Logan. Robitel takes a big page out of the Wan book of horror direction, with smooth camerawork and measured editing building up some tension – at least during the film’s first half. As for the scare-punchlines, it’s a bit of a mixed bag; the requisite jolt of loud music is often eye-rollingly used for jump scares, although there are one or two moments that admittedly gave this writer a few goosebumps.
While Robitel looks to have put some care in creating some tense sequences, he’s neglected most other areas. The film suffers from truly awkward staging, as characters uncomfortably share exposition and attempt to smoothly bounce of each other. Admittedly, it’s a problem that comes from both direction and script, and Whannell’s screenplay features line after line of awful dialogue and a need to spell out as much as possible. Often the most unexplained things can be terrifying; something it seems Robitel and Whannell have forgotten here.
The film’s primary demon, the amusingly named KeyFace, does make for one or two creative sequences; the way he uses his key fingers, for example, is a nice touch. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any real ground rules for what KeyFace can or can’t do, or, for that matter, how to bring him down. The unintentionally laughable showdown ticks off a number of Don’t-Do boxes as quickly as possible, packing in some clumsy emotion, showing way too much of our baddie, and, most importantly, fizzling away any tension that could have driven home something of a climax.
It’s not a complete loss, however. Shaye puts in some solid work, carrying much of the film on her expressive performance. Her dialogue, as mentioned, doesn’t do her any favours, but it’s still nice to see her putting in her all. A shout-out should also go to Aussie actor Angus Sampson (Fargo), who provides some entertainment as Tucker.
Insidious: The Last Key may offer some solid viewing for this franchise’s most hardcore of fans, but it’s neither scary enough or, to be honest, produced with enough demonstrable care for others to bother.
THE REEL SCORE: 4/10