The fourth film in a horror franchise, released on the first weekend of the new year, is just about the easiest movie to write off ever. And yet, you shouldn’t do that with Insidious: The Last Key, despite it being all of those things. It’s a creepy, unpredictable, and surprisingly heartfelt addition to the franchise—and easily the best film in the series since the first one.
In The Last Key, Lin Shaye returns as Elise, a psychic who makes her living battling demons in an dimension between life and death called the Further. She died in the first film (8-year-old spoiler alert) but the third and now fourth installments are prequels to the first two, showing Elise growing into to the person she was in the original film.
This fourth installment, however, goes back even further, introducing Elise as a young girl, and showing how a violent, upsetting relationship with her father dictated much of her life after. More so than the other films, this one really digs deep into the heroine, and the film is better off for it.
The script by franchise c-ocreator and co-star Leigh Whannell balances and connects Elise’s backstory with the main story quite well. Moments from Elise’s past pay off in the present (and even vice versa). It’s filled with reveals and scares that feel fresh not just for the franchise, but horror films in general. Then, of course, there are plenty of the typical tense, scary scenes along with a few jump scares. All of it is strung together in a way that tries, and mostly succeeds, to be unexpected and rewarding, especially when the film offers up some real character moments with Elise and her family members.
However, some of the mythology that made Insidious so popular is missing, since almost all of the story is happening the real world. Director Adam Robitel mostly saves the signature world of The Further for the third act. It’s a nice payoff but a lack of those etherial, smoky scenes along with mythological deep dives makes the movie, at times, feel less like Insidious and more like a generic horror movie.
When the Further is accessed, it’s usually through Key Face, a gruesome villain that’s scary to look at but not necessarily that interesting. He’s powerful for the mere sake of being powerful, his plans are pretty basic and evil, and by the time we truly get to explore him, we’re much more invested in Elise’s personal demons than the literal one in front of her. Thankfully, those lines eventually come together quite nicely.
Elise is joined by Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) who are as funny as ever. The great Bruce Davison has a small but crucial role. And new characters played by Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke offer a hint of where the franchise could go in the future. But, as has been the case with Insidious pretty much from the beginning, it’s Lin Shaye’s franchise.
Sporting an emotional connection and narratively complexity that’s new to the franchise, Insidious: The Last Key is entertaining and effective. It’s not particularly memorable but it’s still a scarier, more personal film than you’d expect—and not a bad way to kick off the 2018 movie year, too.
Insidious: The Last Key opens January 5.