By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Lin Shaye, Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell
Directed by Adam Robitel
Written by Leigh Whannell
Some horror franchises get further and further (no pun intended) away from their initial inspiration as they go along, but INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY brings perfect closure to this series by giving its most vital character deserved front-and-center status.
That would be Elise Rainier, the parapsychologist played by Lin Shaye, and how nice to see the INSIDIOUS team again bucking youth-oriented Hollywood trends by giving a woman of a certain age the lead. Shaye was given more to do in INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 and is the focal point of THE LAST KEY, though her Elise is not the first one we see. The movie opens by taking us back to her preteens in Five Keys, NM, where she’s played by Ava Kolker (who bears an evocative resemblance to Shaye), lives next door to a prison (which means the lights flicker whenever an inmate has a date with Old Sparky) and learns the hard way that not everyone looks favorably upon her gift of sensitivity to the dead. This look at Elise’s formative years is very much in keeping with the previous films’ spirit of ominous mood and teasing misdirection in the setting up of jump-scares, and establishes her fraught relationship with the paranormal.
Then, cut to 2010, after Elise has welcomed eccentric ghostbusting partners Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (scripter Leigh Whannell) into her house, and she receives a phone call from the current resident of her childhood home. He’s being plagued by ghostly phenomena, and while Elise is initially reluctant to revisit the setting of her past trauma, she decides to face her figurative and literal demons and travel back to Five Keys. There, she encounters not only the evil spirit she believes she unleashed when she was little, but the brother she left behind in her teens, now grown up (played by Bruce Davison) with two daughters (Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke), and still smarting from Elise’s abandonment.
Family trauma is the key theme of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, giving this sequel a necessary human element offsetting the inevitable familiarity of the supernatural tropes. Whannell’s screenplay also pulls a surprising reversal of expectations midway through, before a last act that takes the expected venture into the Further to rescue a couple of trapped souls, and confront this movie’s new demonic threat. Played with reliable physical creepiness by Javier Botet (of [REC], MAMA, CRIMSON PEAK et al.), he’s billed as Keyface, though he actually sports those items on his fingers and puts them to use on his victims in an inspired, unsettling manner.
Director Adam Robitel, whose previous THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN became a Netflix sleeper, joins the INSIDIOUS team with this entry and proves a very comfortable fit, eliciting the series’ traditional atmosphere to build some extended, eerie setpieces and delivering a few solid jolts. The best, which comes at the end of a particularly tense and claustrophobic investigative scene, is among the strongest scares in all of the INSIDIOUS movies. Elsewhere, Whannell and Sampson provide moments of comic relief, though Tucker and Specs’ constant hitting on Elise’s nieces (who look barely older than teenagers) sometimes seems as creepy as anything going on down in the haunted basement.
What really makes THE LAST KEY a worthy addition to the INSIDIOUS lineup is Shaye’s presence and performance as Elise, further cementing her as this film series’ MVP. While some of the relationships and supporting roles aren’t as fleshed out as they might be, Elise stands as a fully empathetic heroine, a woman whose life has been marked by mistreatment at the hands of both the living and the dead, and who forges ahead with a quiet determination to help others and deal with her own ghosts. Shaye plays her with plenty of reserve and inner strength, yet with vulnerability at the same time. One gets the feeling at the end of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY that these movies have explored all they have to explore, and that this would be the right one to sign off on—and it also feels like an essential chapter to bring Shaye’s long-suffering but intrepid demon-hunter full circle.