In my recent retrospective of the first three Insidious movies, I commented that director Adam Robitel had a significant challenge in helming Insidious: The Last Key (now in theaters). Working with series writer Leigh Whannell, he needed to tell a believable story that connects Chapter 3 with the original Insidious movie. Having seen The Last Key earlier today, I can report that he has done so.
The film also presents a plausible origin story for the central character of parapsychologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). But what struck me the most about The Last Key was the weight that it gives to bad people as plot drivers. There is a new demon — KeyFace (Javier Botet) — to add to the Insidious supernatural rogues’ gallery. KeyFace draws strength from human fear and cruelty and influences the living to do evil. Yet, certain living people in this story are as much the source of evil as KeyFace is. Moreover, it is men who are the perpetrators, while women are both the victims and the avengers of explicitly violent and implicitly sexual wrongdoing.
The source of this male misogyny is the social and political climate of the United States in the 1950s. To give supporting details would be to spoil the plot as well as to mislead the reader. After all, this is not a politically-motivated film. It’s as entertainment-oriented as the first three Insidious installments. You WILL be entertained — and is that not why you will go to the theater to see this movie?
Part of the evidence for this view is the counterbalancing, idiotic behavior of the two men in the film who are supposed to be through-and-through “good guys”: Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Intended to serve as comic relief, their antics come off as stupid and, in the end, kind of creepy. Beginning with repeated efforts at bad puns, they progress to hitting on two young women in a way that’s uncomfortably close to the behavior of the “bad guys” of this movie. And it doesn’t help that Whannell and Sampson are much older than they were when they debuted their characters in the original Insidious.
Still, the horror-thriller aspects of this film are what make it an enjoyable experience. Although by no means “hardcore,” the horror here is much better than in Chapter 3. Much of this is due to the role that the heroine plays. While Elise still a little too much of a 1960s flower-child in personality, there’s little of the “Into the Further we go!” silliness that marred earlier entries in the series. Part of the reason is that she’s much more personally involved in the demonic goings-on this time around. Shaye takes this situation and does good things with it and her character.
Moreover, the supernatural world is much more plausible in this film than it was in the earlier films (with the possible exception of the original Insidious). Here, it’s a realm of karmic cause and effect (listen for a repeated line about “the ghosts of the past”) that interacts with the world of the living rather than merely preying upon it. Making the plot more interesting is the fact that the supernatural world contains helpful as well as harmful denizens. Representing the latter, KeyFace is as effective a demonic presence as the Lipstick-Face Demon and the Woman in Black (one of whom makes a cameo appearance at the end).
Speaking of the end, Robitel cleverly uses mise-en-scène (as well as conventional narrative devices) to connect his story physically back (or rather, forward) to that of the original Insidious. Given that he pilots what seems to be the last flight of the Insidious Express, carrying a lot of accumulated baggage, it appears that he brings it in for a skillful landing. Yes, there’s no obvious room left for another sequel. But then, you’ll have to see it for yourself to decide whether you agree.
I gave Insidious: The Last Key three out of five stars on Letterboxd.