In celebration of my new-found freedom as Oscar season draws to a close, I chose to see a movie just for me. Then, looking at selection of movies was faced with the choice of a bunch of mediocre to poor looking films. Given all this freedom, I made the wise decision to pick the fourth movie in a franchise that hasn’t been good since the first. Maybe I shouldn’t be trusted with freedom.
Insidious arrived at a key point for horror films. With the end of the “torture” porn and Americanized remake eras and the found footage era already starting to draw some criticism and show its limitations, the horror industry needed another trend to latch onto. Enter the man who helped launch that more extreme era of horror and the company which made found footage films into a sensation, James Wan and Blumhouse Productions. Applying the low budget that made Paranormal Activity so profitable (and contribute to its initial popularity) to the typical mainstream horror film, Wan’s Insidious set the stage for mainstream horror ever since (low budget combined with creative marketing), started his career resurrection which has grown to the point where a $160 million film can be honestly called a smaller title than his last film, and thanks to its quality, proved that mainstream and PG-13 horror does not have to mean it’s shit (to the point where we have one such title as a serious Best Picture contender and that’s not even counting the huge box office and critical successes of It and the execrable Split).
That was a long time ago and unlike Wan’s other series The Conjuring which has been more variable in quality, the Insidious films have been on a straight path into the ground. After a controversial in quality ending to an otherwise very good movie, the second installment (also directed by Wan) was lackluster and the third (directed by frequent Wan collaborator and writer of and actor in every film in the series to date, Leigh Whannell) was even less necessary in feel. The fourth film returns Whannell as a writer and supporting actor, but Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) has stepped in as director and it has dropped the Chapter X subtitle pattern for The Last Key, which means one of two things; the series is running out of steam and/or it’s spinoff time.
While the box office grosses for this have bucked that expected trend, the latter part is correct because while it is a sequel to Chapter 3 (itself a prequel), longtime supporting actress Lin Shaye’s character Elise finally gets her day in the spotlight leading the film SPOILERS which considering she died in the first film is why the series has had to resort to prequels END OF SPOILERS. In fact, the final scene directly leads into the first film.
I admit that I went into the film expecting to tear it apart and yet I’m not going to do that. No, the film isn’t any good, don’t be ridiculous. In fact, I spent a decent portion of the climax deciding on the ideal first name for the main villain before settling for my first thought of Freddy Keyhands. Instead, I’m more willing to grant this film a reprieve of sorts because it tried. Sure, the jump scares were overdone and there were at least twice as many false jump scares as the film needed, but it felt like less than normal for this type of crap. There’s also a very good twist that I did not see coming (quite possibly because the first three films have already mostly disappeared from my memory) and made the film stand a bit on its own.
Also in the good category is of course Lin Shaye whose performance is better than the film deserves. You can sense both her strength and the weight she is carrying as she lends credibility to the nonsensical things happening around her. It’s a genuine shame when the film undercuts all her best dramatic moments by cutting to the two boobs she employs played by Whannell and Angus Sampson whose comic relief roles manage to fail both at being comic and a relief. The tensest I got in the film was when they showed up and started talking (or maybe it was the audio static which made my brain hurt something fierce). I’ll even give credit to Caitlin Gerard (as one of her nieces and SPINOFF ALERT character) and Kirk Acevedo (as the new owner of her house) for doing good with thin roles. Bruce Davison (Willard) on the other hand overacted every seen he was in and at times felt like he existed outside of the scene he was in.
As for the monster design, Freddy has some cool fingers and the way he uses them on his victims is quite well implemented, it’s just a shame the rest of his body looks generic and silly. The film overdoes the key symbolism (and the shots of bloody women standing still like in seemingly every modern horror film) and yet the plot feels like it is doing too much with too wide a scope. It has all the making of at least three high concept horror films (some better than others) and leaves it feeling unfocused and like the film is just adding more and more stuff to contrivedly keep the movie going. The film does have a number of rather nice-looking shots and I’ll take the smoothness of it over the jumpy camerawork and quick cuts of too many of its ilk.
While The Last Key isn’t going to get the Insidious franchise back on track, point to how it could, or even show that it should still exist, it does at least give me hope that they are trying. It at least feels somewhat distinct from, if not any better than its predecessors. Blumhouse may not always be successful, but I almost never get the sense that they are just shitting out certain films to make a profit even when they fail.