No one knows how hard it is to maintain a horror franchise than James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the latter writing the first three Saw movies before shifting to an executive producer role. After directing Insidious Chapter 3, a prequel to the first two movies directed by Wan, Whannell stayed on as writer for one more installment of the Insidious franchise. His continued involvement makes sense as the focus of the franchise shifted to Lin Shaye’s psychic investigator Elise, the third movie ending with her meeting Whannell’s character Specs and his partner Tucker (Angus Sampson).
We’ll get to the Insidious comic relief shortly, because first, we go even further back in time to when Elise was a little girl living in New Mexico in a house near a prison with her mother, her abusive jailer father and her frightened little brother Christian. The house is haunted by the ghosts of those who died on the electric chair at the nearby jail, but Elise’s father isn’t believing any of her claims about seeing those ghosts. It’s a long prologue that sets up what’s to come when Elise is called back to the house by its current inhabitant Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), who is freaked out by the ghosts in his inexpensive fully-furnished house.
Sadly, what made the first two Insidious movies so innovative was that Wan brought his weirdest sensibilities to the mix. Without him–actually, he’s still an exec. producer on the film–this Insidious movie just feels like another typical haunted house film with people walking around in the dark, leading to one cheap scare or another. There aren’t even that many scares or even ghosts persé, so at times, it makes for a rather dull movie as it tries to build up Elise’s backstory.
Mind you, Lin Shaye is still great as Elise, but the role mostly involves her walking around in the dark or saying things meant to sound meaningful. Whannell and Simpson often steal the movie through Specs and Tucker’s antics, although it feels like they’re overused for laughs, which wears thin since neither were ever developed to play such a large role in a movie. The other problem with doing a second prequel is that you know there’s only so much potential danger to the protagonists who we know will survive to appear in the other movies.
Director Adam Robitel doesn’t do a bad job with the script he’s been given by Whannell, since it feels like there’s only so much that can be done. Eventually, Elise and her partners learn the truth about the house and its ghostly inhabitants, which leads to one of the lazier aspects of the story when it throws in a dramatic twist that actually was used as a twist in another fairly recent horror movie (which I won’t name since it’s a major spoiler to even mention that movie.)
What can be said is that we eventually see the demon that’s been haunting Elise since childhood, a clunky CG creature with keys as fingers, and yes, it looks about as stupid as it sounds. There’s also that whistle that acts as a red herring for much of the movie, even though it’s mentioned so many times, you would think it would have more importance to the plot. On returning to New Mexico, Elise re-encounters her brother at a diner, and both his daughters get involved in a last act so confusing you might give up trying to understand what’s happening.
The Insidious franchise is one that could have easily been transitioned into an episodic series following Elise and her partners investigating the supernatural. Instead, everything is wrapped up in a nice bow to make sure there’s no need for further sequels. That sure was nice of them, since Insidious: The Last Key, while not horrible, feels like such a wasted opportunity to end on a high note rather than merely petering away.
Running time: 103 minutes
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor