Insidious: The Last Key (Movie Review)

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

PLOT: Summoned to her childhood home to help a new tenant ward the place of murderous spirits, Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) must contend with her own deep psychic scars that haven’t fully healed over the last 57 years.

REVIEW: It doesn’t say much for a horror movie when the scariest thing while watching it doesn’t come from the film itself, but from a theater usher who suddenly materializes out of thin air and saunters past the aisle with a sinister red light in hand. I don’t know what that says exactly, but I do know such a thing happened to me during INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, a formulaically middling but ultimately entertaining prequel solely meant, as far as I can tell, to fill Blumhouse’s moneymaking January calendar slot. Or to give Lin Shaye her just due. Over-seasoned horror heads ought not fall for the bait entirely, as THE LAST KEY, by its own well executed design, goes backwards in time, it does not care to progress or push the mythos of the franchise far enough (despite going deep into The Further), nor does it challenge our own constitutionally desensitized threshold for dread. Casual horror fans are sure to be more forgiving, if only marginally, which means THE LAST KEY can only be rightly recommended to the fervid INSIDIOUS completists who are dying to know how and why Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) has become the person we’ve known her as in the franchise until now. If that’s you, or if you’re a fan of Lin Shaye and her getting the well deserved spotlight, THE LAST KEY might very well fit like a charm!

In a cruel and unpleasant opener, we’re taken to Five Keys, New Mexico in 1953. Eight year old Elise (Ava Kolker) and her younger brother Christian (Pierce Pope) live with their mom Audrey (Tessa Ferrer) and dad Gerald (Josh Stewart) on the ground floor of a prison complex where they electrocute cons to death only one story above. As such, the place is littered with evil spiritual afterlife, which Elise has been able to see and communicate with since for some time. I won’t spoil the cogs of this opening scene, but suffice it to say her mom believes in her gift, her dad doesn’t, and poor Christian is scared so shitless he can hardly ever forgive his sister. Cut to California 2010, Elise firmly entrenched in the ghost-hunting biz with her pals Specs (Leigh Whannell, who once again wrote the screenplay) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Of course, it’s hard to overlook the physical absurdities of this supposedly being a story prequel when all of the actors look eight years older than they did in the first film. Alas, it’s far easier to swallow with the well-timed levity these two knuckleheads Specs and Tucker provide each time out. They really do counterweigh the tone of the film from being too stone-cold-sober serious, without which would make it too unbearable to watch.

Elise and the boys head back to Five Keys in order to rid Ted Garza (Kirk Acevado) of a ghastly presence; he’s the new owner of the very house she grew up in, no less. Carrying the burden of allowing a deleterious ghost to materialize in the real world, Elise feels it her moral obligation to, against her better judgment, return to her own personal house of horrors and face her past. Along the way she looks up her brother, now in his 60s as well (Bruce Davison), who has two daughters of his own, Melissa (Spencer Locke) and Imogen (Caitlin Gerard). She inevitably endangers them with her mere presence, and when some of them turn up at the house, things move from Gothic fog-hung moodiness to viciously eruptive violence in a quick hurry. Thing is, given the gormless parade of jump-scares and alarming sound-stings, nothing here is all that scary. As far as the frights fair, there was one very well executed sound cue involving a whistle (itself the key to the plot) that briefly startled me, but that was about it. Every other major scare boiled down to images we’ve devoured many a time before, be it darkened figures out of focus slowly approaching in the background, or a longhaired ghouls with crooked double joints crawling rapidly on the floor, etc. I will say, the creepy skeletal key-tipped finger though, as seen on the poster, is a pretty killer addition to the action.

By any measure though, the best thing THE LAST KEY has going for is the leading presence of Lin Shaye, longtime bit player and horror icon who finally gets her overdue chance to shine. She anchors the film with the requisite gravity needed to make the sillier parts of the story feel real enough, and when she isn’t reduced to slowly wandering around in dark and creaky rooms for overlong durations, or sappily trading mawkish lines with Bruce Davison, she’s allowed by Leigh Whannell’s script to show what an exceptional actor she’s always been, even when it’s in between lines with a look of her face or eyes. It’s great to see her get such a prominent role, if for no other reason than as a small token of gratitude for being such a horror champion, along with her brother Bob Shaye, for such a long time. Speaking of Whannell, here he delegates his directorial duties of INSIDIOUS 3 to Adam Robitel (THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN), who serviceably elicits the proper tone, tenor and territory of the franchise. He may lack some of the fancier directorial flourishes of James Wan, but he shines most when handling protracted scenes inside The Further, during which much of the second half takes place.

Alhough I wish it’d been more terrifying, for a cheaply made PG-13 horror flick, I suppose INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY is good enough to warrant a fifth franchise chapter. If so, I’m all for keeping Shaye as the principal lead, but better care ought to be taken to ensure that even the most jaded of horror fan finds their fill somewhere in the film. If not, the INSIDIOUS franchise will inevitably lose credibility and continue to devolve into a 100-minute space where only casual fans and defensive die-hards can enjoy the product. If this turns out to NOT be THE LAST KEY, then the next one better unlock the hardcore horror for real!


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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.