You can always tell when even the folks putting out late sequels in a horror franchise know that it isn’t a good idea anymore. It’s usually when the numbers stop. Oh sure, producers will proudly announce Insidious Chapter 2 to let you know that more of what you love is coming. When you drop the “Chapter 4” in favour of a subtitle as generic as The Last Key? Well then someone is trying to trick you into forgetting how many Insidious sequels exist and whether or not you’ve seen the last entry. It happens all the time and it’s never a good sign. It should surprise absolutely no one to hear that Insidious: The Last Key is a disappointment. The only real surprise for most people out there is that this haunted house franchise is still around and sequeling at all.
So, there is a plot and it’s convoluted. Over the course of writing this series, Leigh Whannell has gotten a bit nutty with chronology. Insidious: Chapter 3 was conceived as a prequel. This movie is a sequel to that prequel taking place before the first movie with flashbacks that occur before the first prequel. Got it? Nope? Who cares! The point is that the story is ostensibly about franchise psychic Lin Shaye and her bumbling ghostbuster buddies (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell). They are investigating a new case that gets them closer to the case from the first movie. At the same time, we also get scenes taking us back to Shaye’s childhood. Here she’s played by Hana Hayes in a surprisingly strong n’ sad performance. Apparently, as a teen she lived next door to a prison that mad her home’s electricity to sputter everytime a criminal got roasted in the electric chair. That caused the poor girl to get her first psychic visions, seeing the lives of the recently deceased criminals. Her alcoholic father hated it and was abusive. It’s suggested that the abuse and trauma formed her connection to the afterlife. Pretty dark stuff, but don’t worry! It’s all broken up by a goofy ghost romp.
Does that twisted narrative of this fourquel/prequel-sequel make much sense or have much of a dramatic impact? Meh, not really. Despite all of Whannell’s attempts to carve out a tragic past for his characters that have been around for four movies, they are still paper thin and not worthy of much emotional investment. It also doesn’t help that the movie is so tonally confused, stretching for traumatic tragedy in the flashback while playing like a millennial Scooby Doo gang mystery in the main story. It’s all a mess, sloppily conceived and never as funny or tragic as it’s meant to be. Admittedly, Lin Shaye is a fantastic character actress and Sampson/Whannell have developed fun comedic chemistry over the course of the franchise. There’s a certain amusement to be had in seeing the gang come back. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t much new to do with them. They are essentially replaying old hits of Insidious past that don’t sound nearly as good the fourth time.
Of course in a movie like this, concerns like coherent storytelling, thematic depth, and layered characterization don’t matter. Nope, the only reason that anyone would ever consider watching an Insidious sequel is purely for the jump scares and spooky shenanigans. Sadly those are a letdown as well. The first two Insidious flicks won fans because their director James Wan (Saw, The Conjuring, Furious 7) has a knack for serving up hyper-stylized visuals and jarring jump scares that play like gangbusters in a movie theatre. Sadly, Wan was too busy with Aquaman to have any involvement here and replacement director Adam Robitel isn’t remotely as gifted of a filmmaker. Sure, he delivers some perfunctory scares and visuals stolen from old Insidious flicks. The style and spookiness just feel stale and photocopied. It’s often a chore to sit through Insidious: The Last Key.
There’s no reason for the movie to exist beyond profitability. The story goes nowhere interesting, the characters have little juice left, and all the scare tactics that seemed so fresh when the franchise started are now clichés. It’s time for this franchise to move on to the afterlife. That was supposed to happen last time, but too much money was made for the producers to let this series go. Hopefully, that won’t happen again because there are hints dropped throughout the last key to suggest they are setting up an Insidious: Chapter 5. So, it’s in your hands now. Please don’t by a ticket to this dead series. It’s time to let go of the past and move on. You know, just like spooky ghosts freed from their haunted house by a kindly psychic.
Liked this article and want to read more like it? Check out Phil’s take on Blade Runner 2049, Happy Death Day, and It! He also had a chance to sit down with Guillermo Del Toro. Check out his interview here!
Don’t forget to tune in every Friday the Pixels & Ink Podcast to hear the latest news, previews, and in-depth game discussions!
CGMagazine is Canada’s premiere comics and gaming magazine. Subscribe today to get the best of CGM delivered right to your door! Never miss when a new issue goes live by subscribing to our newsletter! Signing up gives you exclusive entry into our contest pool. Sign up once, you’ll have a chance to win! Sign up today!