Insidious: The Last Key is the fourth chapter in the franchise and the second prequel before the events of the first film. After Insidious: Chapter 3 (the first prequel), we were left wondering where Leigh Whannell was going to take Elise (Lin Shaye), Specs (Leigh Whannell), and Tucker (Angus Sampson) as they were last seen walking off together to form their little ghost hunting group; it was never made clear how close we were to the events of the first film.
Now normally I would say that prequels can be a bad idea. Most of the time no one really wants to know the backstory of our heroes or villains because it takes away the mystery of these characters and over explains events that were better spoken and not shown.
Not only do prequels tend to explain backstory of characters and villains we don’t really want, but prequels have a bad habit of creating plot holes in the timeline that does not match up with the events of the first film, leaving the audience scratching their heads trying to figure it out like a jigsaw puzzle and how it all fits together.
Insidious: The Last Key does not fall into this trap. Writer Leigh Whannell gives us a well thought-out prequel and an equally impressive haunted house film that works as a great mystery too.
The first three Insidious films follow a similar pattern: a family is in trouble, a house is haunted by spirits and demons, and Elise (or another paranormal investigator) is called in to solve the haunting. This time Whannell flips everything on its head, and instead of Elise investigating someone else’s haunting, she’s really investigating her own and its connection to her past.
With this change in the formula, it allows Whannell to dive further (no pun intended) into Elise’s backstory, while at the same time giving the character such depth and emotional weight that one can’t help but empathize at her tragic upbringing at the hands of an abusive father (Josh Stewart) who doesn’t want young Elise to develop her ‘gift’ because he is afraid of it – or so the film would have you believe.
This was a prequel done right. Not only did it tell a new story, it shed light into a characters past that we did not know about, while at the same time, expanding the Insidious universe.
Director Adam Robitel takes over as director on this film from Whannell (who helmed Insidious Part 3) and James Wan (who helmed Insidious 1 & 2). If you do not know Adam Robitel’s work, I highly suggest seeking out The Taking of Debra Logan. Robitel does a wonderful job of creating tight, atmospheric tension without relying on jump scares to shock the audience. Instead, he allows the tension of the story to build, the mystery to unfold, slowly drawing us in to this world. The few jump scares that are in the movie (and there are not a lot) are very well timed and effective, aided by the build up to them.
What makes Insidious: The Last Key stand out from the rest of the sequels is the mystery element of the film, and a pretty clever twist that one will not see coming. Yet with the added mystery to the movie it may turn some viewers off because it does not put the focus onto the ghosts and demons right away, or even on The Further. To say the movie drags as the mystery unfolds would be unfair; to say it slows down as things are discovered would be a better assessment to the film. That is what makes Insidious: The Last Key a lot of fun to watch. You find yourself so absorbed in the mystery, that you forget, at times, that you are watching a haunted house movie, so when the scares do happen they are jolting.
All good ghost stories are not about the haunting itself. The story is always more interesting when you know the lore around the ghost story, the mystery of what happened to that person that caused them to haunt a building, an abandon asylum or hospital, or a battlefield like Gettysburg. Sometimes the human story is more frightening or emotional than their ghost story, and this is what Insidious: The Last Key does perfectly by adding in the mystery surrounding Elise’s past.
Lin Shaye as Elise is fantastic and her portrayal of the character as a broken woman, is as emotional as it is sympathetic. Shaye brings so much depth to the character with just her eyes, so much heart with her warm voice that it is not hard to feel both safe and empathetic for that character. Elise has had a lot of real-life demons: she lost the love of her life, she struggles with a “gift” she does not want, and grew up with an abusive father. But at the same time she is not a woe-is-me character. Elise faces her inner demons and meets her challenges head on, even when they terrify her. Shays’ character, in this day and age where women are playing stronger resilient female roles, should be examined as one of the strong architype women characters. Not all strong female characters have to lift buildings or blow stuff up. Some are strong in other ways and that’s what makes Elise (and Shaye) feel so human and relatable.
Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson) provide the comic relief, just as they have in the previous films. Their presence in the films is welcoming and their friendly banter and comradery really shines, giving all the films some levity. Their jokes have always been well timed and on point – again showing strength to Whannell as not only a good horror/mystery writer, but a good comedian writer as well.
If there is one thing to dislike about the film it was that a key plot point was not addressed fully and could have been handled better in the end. Needless to stay even with this very small gripe, Insidious: The Last Key is a welcome addition to the franchise. And if you are a fan of the series, go and check this one out in a dark theater with some popcorn and friends – you’ll have a blast!
9 out of 10 Stars.
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