DON'T LOCK BACK IN ANGER
INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (15)
Director: Adam Robitel
Screenplay: Leigh Whannell
Review: David Stephens
Whatever people say about Blumhouse and PG-13 horror (and some people do say a lot online), you can’t fault the studio’s commitment to the genre and Jason Blum’s passion for continuing to champion scares at the cinema. Given that Blumhouse gave us two of our favourite films during 2017 (the excellent “Get Out” and highly enjoyable “Happy Death Day”), we’re pretty much on-board with most of their projects at the moment, including their ongoing franchises. You can call that our clumsy link into the next instalment of one of their most successful film sagas. The original “Insidious” was directed by James Wan and frightened up some exceedingly strong box-office in 2010. Starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Lin Shaye and the “Lipstick Demon”, it cannily told the tale of a comatose boy being haunted by evil spirits in a purgatorial realm called “The Further”. Some great jump scares and good performances made this stand out.
Unfortunately “Chapter 2” in 2013 wasn’t that great, mostly due to some re-hashed frights and a pretty lack-lustre villain (“The Bride in Black”). However 2015’s “Chapter 3” (directed by Leigh Whannell, who has also written all of the films in the franchise) was a return to form (at least in our eyes) as it focused on Lin Shaye’s psychic Elise Rainier via the power of prologue, and had some really creepy moments. For this new film directed by Adam Robitel (“The Taking of Deborah Logan”), which has been given the subtitle “The Last Key”, Elise is once again the main character… and quite rightly so. As the film is now in US and UK cinemas, YGROY checks out the “Further” adventures (Heh. Never gets old) of Elise…
The story of “Last Key” takes place after “Chapter 3” and before the events of the first film (for obvious reasons if you’re a fan of the series). However, it all starts with a lengthy prologue set in 1953. The Rainier family are in New Mexico, living in a house near to a grim penitentiary where the father Gerald (Josh Stewart) works. Young Elise (Ava Kolker) is already sensitive to the spirit world, despite her abusive Dad trying to literally beat her beliefs out of her. One night she has her first experience with an entity in the Further, which results in tragic circumstances. Back to 2010 and after the events of “Chapter 3”, Elise (Shaye of course) is once again investigating supernatural events, with the aid of her new colleagues Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). But when she gets a call from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), she recognises his address as her old family home. Initially reticent to travel there, she realises that she is fated to return to the building to battle her demons once again, both physical and metaphorical…
Before we get to the meat-&-potatoes of the review, isn’t it great that a profitable horror franchise be headed up by an actress in her mid-70’s? All credit to Shaye, who was perhaps previously best known for intentionally grotesque roles in comedies like “There’s Something About Mary”, or fun characters in many genre films like the “2001 Maniacs” remake. She has made Elise a much-loved lynchpin in the franchise, and in all the films the actress radiates an inherent goodness and genuine likeability that is essential for the stories to work. Happily, this remains the case in TLK, as the movie puts her front and centre and explores her past and motives, as well as adding an edge of social commentary.
As far as the film goes itself, there are plenty of good points, and a few bad ones. In all honesty, there are moments where repetition and familiar sequences are very obvious. Fleeting figures dash across the frame with a loud burst of sound, shadowy figures hide in plain sight, and the old scary-face-over-the-shoulder shock is pulled out a couple of times again. Having said that, at least Robitel attempts the subvert the telegraphed scares at certain points; an imposing stalker is revealed to be clothing on a hanger, and spooks sometimes don’t appear when you smugly expect them to… only to “BOO!” the audience at a quieter moment. But there’s certainly nothing really “new” or original here. Even the Further is given minimal treatment with one slightly dull location, and Elise spends far too much time just creeping around the old dark house waiting to be pounced on.
However, “KeyFace” is played with consummate creepiness by accomplished creature actor Javier Botet, and probably the most unsettling “Insidious” demon since the original Lipstick freak. The way in which he moves and “switches off” the screams and life-signs of victims is pretty damned chilling. There is a nice air of grittiness that comes from not only the location, but also from some neat plot twists that occur midway and add some needed meat to the narrative’s bones. It comes with some underlying themes regarding abuse and silence, which is obviously insanely topical in the current environment. And whilst the script is occasionally hammy, there are some great moments of quietly affective dialogue. Elise speaking of her home; “I don’t have memories of that place… only scars”. Gerald chastising Elise; “If you don’t follow the rules under my roof, you’ll end up under the floor”. Not to mention some witty asides from Specs and Tucker; “She’s psychic. We’re sidekick”.
Along with Shaye, there are some good performances from Kolker (amazing as the tormented young girl) and the shifty Acevedo. However, the comedic tone from Specs & Tucker seems inappropriate at certain points (flirting with the nieces) and badly judged in some sequences. Although Sampson’s “Don’t patronise me woman” is perfectly timed. Full marks for the links and continuity with ALL the previous films as well, as characters are name-dropped constantly and the final scene will cause long-time fans to purse their lips and nod sagely as the pieces come into play. Watch out for one particular supporting character who may just hold the key (Heh. Again.) as to where future entries could go, and to whether there will ever be a direct follow-up to “Chapter 2”.
In terms of how it holds up with the other films; we’d put it way above “Chapter 2”, but slightly behind “Chapter 3” and “Chapter 1”. It’s a solid scare-athon, although you’ll get much more from it if you’re a fan of the franchise and know your way around the Further already. It’s certainly watchable enough (the time flies quicker than you’d think whilst viewing it) and the emphasis on Elise is a wise move. But it doesn’t reinvigorate the series or provide anything really original, although the character history is welcome. Certainly one for the fans who won’t be disappointed, but it probably won’t be a highpoint of the year for genre aficionados. At the time of writing, in only two weeks the film has already garnered $92.5m worldwide from a budget of only $10m! So another sequel looks very likely at this stage, with Jason Blum recently saying that he’d like to see the franchise cross over with “Sinister”. We’ll see. But as far as this goes, it’s not bad and we’re not averse to seeing “Further” films…