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January 6, 2018

Insidious: The Last Key

by Franz Patrick

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★

Wall-to-wall Lin Shaye is perhaps the best strategy the film has going for it, especially because we know exactly what to expect from “Insidious: The Last Key,” written by Leigh Whannell and directed by Adam Robitel, the fourth installment in the financially successful horror franchise: a house with a haunting, three supernatural investigators appear on the doorstep, a foray into The Further—a purgatory where damned souls end up. Shaye, once again playing the veteran psychic Elise Rainier, can tell an entire story without saying a word. Her gray hair, deep wrinkles, and experienced eyes do all the talking. We watch in nervous anticipation as she wades into a dark, foreboding room.

Patience is what solid horror films have in common. While there are pedestrian jolts and jump scares, these do not come across careless or annoying because scenes almost always contain a slow, drawn-out escalation. It is the kind of movie where one is inspired to look at every corner just in case someone or something is standing there. It is seemingly aware that we know the “Boo!” moment is coming and so it plays with our expectations by delaying just a bit before the rattlesnake bites. But perhaps more enjoyable, occasionally impressive, are potentially terrifying images that slowly make their way to the foreground.

Observe the private moment when Elise explores her dusty old room from childhood. She has not been there for decades and not all memories are exactly pleasant. Yet there is a joy about this moment, a warm feeling, partly due to Shaye’s convincing performance and partly because the camera knows which objects and body parts to focus on to create a semblance of nostalgia. Meanwhile, a shadow, which is an effective metaphor, creeps up just behind our fearless but vulnerable heroine. A nice feeling of going through one’s old toys and finding lost trinkets is quickly perverted into a disturbing experience. Clearly, the director has picked up a trick or two from classic Hitchcock pictures.

Some attempts at humor are severely misplaced. Elise’s self-proclaimed sidekicks (Whannell and Angus Sampson) possess some charm but when their reaction shots are shown during the more intense sequences, these take away some tension, at times downright distracting. Perhaps the intention is to turn gasps of horror into uncomfortable laughter, but the trick becomes repetitive eventually. It would have been a wonderful opportunity to learn more about Specs and Tucker through dialogue. Why is it that they choose to follow Elise specifically? What fuels their passion in parapsychology and hauntings? Entire backstories are not needed, morsels would have been enough to keep us curious.

“Insidious: The Last Key” may not offer anything new or exciting to the franchise, but it does provide highly watchable forays into dark basements and hidden rooms. Haunted house movies of poorer quality tend to rely on the expected beats to generate would-be scares. At least this project has a suitcase full of tricks revealed throughout.


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