'Insidious: The Last Key' May Kill The Franchise

The Insidious franchise has gone on longer than anyone ever guessed it would, matched only by the expansion of creator James Wan's Conjuring series into a full cinematic universe. However, Insidious hasn't enjoyed nearly as much of the financial or critical success as The Conjuring series and its Annabelle spinoffs, and Insidious: The Last Key may just be the final nail in the franchise's coffin.

The Last Key is actually a second prequel (following the prequel that was Insidious 3), which begins in 1953 when psychic / demonologist Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) was just a little girl, struggling with her emerging power to make contact with the dead. Elise's abilities frighten her corrections officer father Gerald (Josh Stewart), who punishes the little girl by locking her in the basement. It's in that dark place that Elise is contacted by a spirit asking her to release it from the doorway where it's imprisoned; the young girl obliges, and pays a hefty price.

The spirit in question turns out to be a demon called "KeyFace," which causes major tragedy and loss in Elise's family, before she finally runs away from home. Years later, just before Elise's final case with the Lambert family, she's contacted by a man named Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo) who has moved into her family's old home. When Ted starts recounting the strange supernatural occurrences in his home, Elise realizes she has run away for as long as she can, and with her sidekicks Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), she gets up the courage to return home for her inevitable showdown with KeyFace.

The problem with Insidious: The Last Key isn't that adds yet another convoluted branch onto the Insidious series timeline (and it definitely does that); the confusing path would've been fine, had the journey been worth it. Unfortunately, director Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) doesn't have the chops to infuse his ghostly horror film with any kind of life.

Insidious: The Last Key is a film that would get a failing grade in film school. While the demonic sequences are hair-raising and at times outright frightening, those highlights are dragged way down by filler scenes that are awkwardly flat, off-beat, and just poorly directed. Visuals don't mesh well with audio; loose seams of bad editing and atrocious audio mixing hang all over the place; and with the exception of Lin Shaye (who is a veteran character actor thoroughly at home playing Elise Rainier by now), not one of the actors seems all the able to muster a convincing performance.

Insidious 4 The Last Key

With the experience of actually watching The Last Key made so difficult, it's hard to say the film is a welcome addition to the Insidious franchise, or even a worthy horror film to catch in theaters. If anything, it seems like The Last Key is coasting on the franchise name recognition (not to mention the expanded fame of James Wan) to put a film in theaters that realistically should've been direct-to-video. The script by franchise vet Leigh Whannell takes what should've been a pretty straightfoward redemption/homecoming tale and tries to add so many twists into the mix that the story quickly loses thematic focus and proper balance of its character arcs. Worst of all, in having to setup, execute, and explain some many turns in the story, Whannell trades potential "scare moments" screen time for exposition and cheap surprises. If you thought Insidious: Chapter 2 squandered the simple ghost story of the first film, you'll be even more incensed by The Last Key.

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If there is any glimmer of hope for this franchise left, it's that the red door is still open to pick up where we left off after Chapter 2, with the ghost version of Elise guiding Specs and Tucker into a dark new case. Trying to go the prequel route has been about as big a dead end for Insidious as it was for Paranormal Activity, and if it's not dead already, the franchise needs to quickly right itself, before it too is reduced to hokey spinoffs and cheap 3D gimmickry.

Insidious: The Last Key is now playing in theaters. It is. 1 hour and 43 mintues long and Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language.