The fourth installment in a popular series, “Insidious: The Last Key” seems to offer a tantalizing conclusion. The title itself is very mysterious, as no previous film in the series mentioned keys of any kind. But if audiences were hoping to discover what exactly “the last key” is, they will be sorely disappointed. Quizzically, the series itself doesn’t seem to have an answer to the very concept it introduces.
The plot follows a character which fans of the series will be familiar with, the medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). Elise returns to her childhood home to combat a supernatural evil using her psychic abilities. The film wastes no time in raising the idea of keys as often as possible. Elise returns to her unsubtly named hometown of Five Keys, New Mexico. Jumbled keyrings are placed, noticeably overt, on tabletops, countertops and hang ominously from door frames in almost every scene. Finally, and most noticeably, the fingers of the film’s central monster are sinisterly tipped with old keys.
OK, sure. Why keys?
As the audience soons learns, the demon uses them to control members of the real world, causing acts of unspeakable violence. Yet before he is able to do this, Elise has to open a door for him: the red door between the real world and the paranormal. Let that sink in for a second. A powerful, maleficent demon capable of human possession and with literal keys attached to his body is somehow thwarted by a locked door.
Perhaps, then, demons only needs keys to perform the multitude of possessions that occur during the course of this film. A good guess. At least “Insidious: Chapter 3” attempted, albeit sloppily, to explain the oxygen-masked appearance of its central villian with a confounded backstory. This latest installment doesn’t even bother with explanation, making the addition of the keys seem both arbitrary and unnecessary.
Despite its bizarre key fetish, this film does its best to renew some beloved characters. A staple in the “Insidious” franchise since its beginning, Elise is joined again by her two comedic companions Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). Tucker sums up the dynamic of the team with the catchphrase, “She’s the psychic. We’re the sidekick.”
The playful riffs between these two lovable characters provide the narrative with much-needed comedy and the combination of Elise, Specs and Tucker is the most successful component of the “Insidious” franchise. However, despite these brief bright moments, most of the film is defeated by its constant reliance on flashback and other genre cliches.
As if conscious of its own narrative deficiencies, “Insidious: The Last Key” spends a bafflingly short amount of time in the present. Indeed, the film opens with a lengthy flashback to Elise’s childhood. Not only does this reduce the screen time of the talented Shaye, but the entire opening sequence is literally retold seconds after it happens, as the adult version of Elise explains her whole tragic upbringing to Specs and Tucker in a matter of seconds.
The flashbacks later in the film are similarly unnecessary and only distract from the film’s central narrative. Its penchant for flashbacks and futile attempts to build a synchronous timeline with the other films in the series instead appear to be desperate attempts to reclaim the initial glory of “Insidious.”
The original film was notable in several ways. It subverted the tired concept of a family moving into a haunted house by instead offering the idea of a haunted individual. The wrong lesson was learned, however, from the success of the first film — audiences don’t crave the same formula with slightly different renderings. Rather, they seek a departure from tired jumpscares and predictable plot trajectories that plague the genre, and perhaps even desire a demon with hands topped with something a little scarier than keys.
“Insidious: The Last Key” is currently playing at UA Berkeley 7.
Contact Sarah Alford at [email protected].