It’s difficult to talk about Insidious without bringing up The Conjuring and Saw. As the second franchise to be created by Saw co-creators Leigh Whannell and James Wan, before Wan would go on to start the Conjuring franchise, Insidious exists in a strange ‘middle child’ kind of position.
The fourth film in the Insidious franchise, Insidious: The Last Key fills in the time between Insidious: Chapter 3 and Insidious, continuing to follow Elise, Specs and Tucker (Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson respectively) as they investigate the spirits which reside in Elise’s childhood home.
One of the strengths of the Insidious films has been the way each film builds on the existing story. It was most obvious in Insidious 2, when the film recreated some of the first film’s events from a different perspective, but the addition of the third and fourth films allow for the series to be viewed as the two-film story of the Lamberts (played by Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne), or the four-film story of Elise’s final acts as a Demonologist.
The biggest issue I’ve had with all of the Insidious films has been that the world of films seems to lack that…something…that would set it apart from the rest of the horror field. Saw has it, The Conjuring has it, but Insidious hasn’t quite found its own stride yet. That’s not to say it couldn’t, I find the world of Insidious intriguing and would love to see some more exploration of ‘the Further’ and its implications, but Leigh Whannell’s scripts have always felt a little under-developed.
Of course, the quality of the production can go a long way to making up for this kind of thing and the first two films benefitted from having James Wan directing and the leading talents of Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Although I thought they handled their parts in the first two films, as the mentor and the comedic duo, very well, Shaye, Whannell and Sampson just don’t seem to have the chemistry to hold these films as leads.
Director Adam Robitel (whose only previous feature was 2014’s The Taking of Deborah Logan) manages the film well, providing tension with the camera and sound where others would have fumbled it and playing with the film’s own overuse of fake-out jump scares to deliver the film’s most effective scare. I am definitely interested to see what Robitel goes on to create.
Unfortunately, there is one sour note to all this, but it’s difficult to articulate without spoiling things. As the narrative comes to a close, there is a particular thematic message shining through that is, while not necessarily damaging, irresponsible in the current cultural climate of personal responsibility and accountability.
Overall, Insidious: The Last Key is fine. Its strengths lie in its position within the wider franchise and the skill of its director, but the shaky script and sometimes uninspiring leads are hardly going to spoil it for you. I just wish the malevolent spirit didn’t look like a shaved Wookie.