A lot of the footage you see in the advertisements for Insidious: The Last Key is not in the movie. This happens sometimes and is usually the result of three things:
1. The movie has been cut to pieces in post-production.
2. It was shot based on a very loose script and then assembled after the fact.
3. The extra footage was shot solely for the trailer.
The final product of Insidious: The Last Key seems to point to all of these things, and it would make sense considering that the Insidious brand is barely a brand at all. In fact, there’s very little to stylistically connect the front half of the franchise to the back (more on why in a bit). But since it appears that this already overlong movie has been shortened considerably, I wonder if the “extended cut” will shed any light on to just what the hell this stupid title means. Yes, a key is used to open a spooky door. Yes, a demon has keys for fingers which it uses to “lock” a victim’s voice. But other than those two instances of imagery, “The Last Key” has no meaning at all. Was there a first key? Were keys at all relevant in the series until now? No and no. Believe you me, I have no actual interest in spending any more time in the Insidious world than I already have (a shame since I consider the first film to be one of the greats in the haunted house subgenre), but I wonder why they didn’t just stick with the title trend and call it Insidious: Chapter 4.
You’ll probably say “Dan, you’re nitpicking. Why get caught up on such a dumb thing? Just talk about the movie on a functional level.”
Ok, fine. This movie does not function. At all.
Some background: Insidious (excellent) told the tale of the Lambert family, who upon experiencing supernatural events, come to discover that their son is trapped in “The Further,” a realm of demons using the body and home of young Dalton Lambert as a passageway to our world. They hire Elise, a psychic, and her two ghost hunter lackeys, Specs and Tucker, to help with their situation. At the end of the movie, Elise is killed.
In Insidious: Chapter 2 (not bad for an after-the-fact sequel) the Lambert haunting continues while the death of Elise is investigated.
Insidious: Chapter 3 (garbage) is a prequel, and it tells the story of a prior haunting which Elise investigated. The Lamberts are not involved. It also explains how she, Specs, and Tucker met, as if anyone at all cared. It also undercuts a great moment in the first film when Specs and Tucker comically panic after they first see something explicitly supernatural, by showing that they have dealt with such things plenty of times before.
Insidious: The Last Key (absolute dreck) is also a prequel, and it’s a sequel to the other prequel. It continues the Lambert-free story of Elise, Specs, and Tucker as they investigate a haunting at Elise’s childhood home.
The problem with prequels is that one must take a top down approach to building character. The character we know is already constructed, but now we attempt to fill in empty spaces that, initially, weren’t spaces at all — weren’t in need of filling. The Insidious franchise stupidly decided to follow three characters who were just set dressing in the first film. Hell, one of them is dead by the end of it. Did we really need to know what makes these tropey side characters tick? I sure didn’t. So now we’ve taken characters who were underwritten by design and overwritten them for the sake of creating some sort of connective tissue to a successful franchise in an effort to sell tickets via branding. It’s like Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, only not a satire, and therefore completely worthless.
Narratively, the film is a shambles. It feels like disparate ideas being stitched together in post-production. Scare scenes are long and turgid, with no tension to speak of. The jump scares are telegraphed, poorly staged, and empty. Plot threads weave in and out willy nilly to the point where it becomes tough to tell who is doing what and where. There’s even a weird attempt at giving Specs a romantic thread, made doubly creepy by the fact that the girl he’s attempting to woo is at least 15 years his junior.
Leigh Whannell, who plays Specs, is credited as the screenwriter once again, and you’d think that having one person write all four of these movies would give even its later entries some sort of spark —something to make it of value to the series. You would be wrong. While there are a few attempts to tie it into the larger narrative, this movie feels very perfunctory. It is so stupid and lazy that even fans of the franchise should stay away. There is nothing on display here worth paying money for.
Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, and Angus Sampson (Elise, Specs, and Tucker) all show up and do committed work, but even the best performances will never be enough to elevate characters specifically designed not to be fleshed out, especially when their behaviors consistently undercut their original, fun versions from so many years ago (which are chronologically in the future). Ugh. I really hated this movie.
It even looks lazy. Granted, the first two entries were directed by James Wan, a stylish filmmaker if there ever was one, so the third and fourth entires (directed by Leigh Whannell and Adam Robitel, respectively) were destined to look basic by comparison. But even without this standard, Insidious: The Last Key is a visual dud. ‘Bland’ is the word. ‘Sleepy’ is another one. ‘Uninspired’ is yet another. ‘Shitty’ is perhaps the most appropriate. The version of The Further on display isn’t scary or creative even by low-rent, seasonal haunted house standards. The lead demon (the key-finger one) has a cool design, so there’s that, but whatever. I’ll draw it for you on a napkin and you’ll say “neat” and then we’ll immediately move on to another topic and forget that we even mentioned it.
Perhaps the biggest sins of all are the lame-brained attempts at humor littered throughout. NONE of them land, and one in particular sticks in my craw. Whenever this dull trio of protagonists is tasked with introducing themselves to someone, Tucker says “she’s psychic, we’re sidekick.” You see, the way he says “sidekick” sounds a little like “psychic” because he’s apparently never used a mouth before. Other characters react with confusion, partially because of his needless garbling, but mostly because “we’re sidekick” doesn’t make any sense even when spoken with crystal clarity. It’s garbage writing and I hate it so much and I want it to die.
I’d bet good money that I spent more time writing this review than anyone spent on the script.
Insidious: The Last Key is awful. What makes me so mad about it is the fact that it’s exactly the movie I had expected Insidious to be so many years ago, only to be pleasantly surprised. My preconceptions were flipped so hard and fast that I felt shame for going in with a closed mind. Insidious: The Last Key reminds me where that mindset came from.
Bonus: Two of the four photos in this article are not in the final cut of the movie. You’ll have to see it to find out which ones. Or just ask.
Author: Dan Scully
Dan Scully is a film buff and humorist living in a tiny apartment in Philadelphia. He hosts the podcast I Like to Movie Movie and is the proud father to twin cactuses named Riggs & Murtaugh. Also, he doesn’t really mind when Batman kills people. Follow him on Twitter and Letterboxd.