‘The Last Key’ decent, dragged down by ‘Insidious’ hallmarks

Are you the keymaster? Images courtesy Universal Pictures.

4/10 You thought I’d forgotten about Insidious, didn’t you? No, we remember. Even if no one else- What?! It opened at almost $30 million?

Guess January isn’t the dead zone it used to be.

Insidious: The Last Key sees franchise star Elise Rainier (Lin Shayne, Ava Kolker and Hana Hayes in flashbacks) return to her childhood home to investigate a paranormal disturbance. The film flashes between to her upbringing and abuse at the hands of her father Gerald (Josh Stewart), who sought to repress her psychic abilities, and the present day plight of Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) as she discovers an age-old evil in the house’s foundations, one that she herself released.

In The Last Key sets itself up to more thoroughly explore Elise Rainier, the series’ key character who has never been given much of a personality beyond her function of saving the day in other people’s plots. I guess it does — we technically know more about her than we did before the movie started — but where the natural thing to do would be to devote time to really examine her beyond just giving her a backstory, the film instead devotes time to maybe the only other thing that’s more iconic to the Insidious movies: boring, telegraphed jump scares.

Since debuting in 2010, the Insidious movies have been the commercial standard for horror movies. While excellent, philosophically and psychologically rich work is still being done in the genre on films like It Follows and The Witch, it seems Insidious still embodies what the people want to see — poorly developed characters, washed out colors, maybe a cool monster and incredibly dull jump scare sequences.

At times while watching The Last Key, I found myself astonished at how few and how lame the scares really are. Forget about going back to the drawing board for a better scare lineup, it seems like a movie production’s worth of human beings could have come up with more and better ideas on the spot while making the movie.

Look at this! When it’s not jumping out at you, this shit is just not scary.

The time The Last Key doesn’t spend trying to make viewers jump is spent on Rainier’s surprising gay narrative. The coding is laid on thick — the first ghost she sees in the movie, right before her father tries to beat the abnormality out of her, is literally hiding in the closet. It positions Rainier as an old lesbian returning to a home she was excommunicated from, discovering her brother and nieces she didn’t know she had.

As we’re exposed more to the demon she released as a child and the atrocities it drove the people who lived in that house to commit, the metanarrative expands into broader feminism. Most of the fearsome imagery is of women in chains, and the monster has a key in his index finger that lets it literally shut down a woman’s voice box. At two different points, Rainier realizes that a beaten, ragged woman she’s looking at is actually still alive and can be helped.

As much as Shayne drives the film, I still find myself wanting more from her. Rainier is returning to a space in which she experienced the kinds of horrors few people ever face — not just scary movie demons, but guilt over the death of her mother and the other women she learns she could have helped, and a real monster in the form of her father. The mundane elements of The Last Key are much scarier than the CGI monsters that jump out from around corners, but Rainier never breaks down, never shows the emotional weight of what she’s going through, so as viewers we never really feel it.

The Last Key stands as the series’ second largest debut and introduces a new character who can enter the further — insurance should the worst happen to the 74-year-old Shayne. For better or worse, the Insidious movies are going nowhere fast.

Leopold Knopp is a UNT graduate. Like Reel Entropy on Facebook, follow it on Twitter and Instagram and support it on Patreon. You can reach me at reelentropy@gmail.com.

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