So let's get this straight. The timeline of the Insidious franchise goes like this:
The first Insidious is the third story in the life of its lead character Elise (Lin Shaye). Insidious Chapter 2
is the quasi-prequel/sequel to the first Insidious which acts as the fourth story in the timeline. Then the producers of the franchise seem to have thought "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", and hence we had a repeat with Insidious Chapter 3
which acted as the first adventure Elise has had, and there's now Insidious: The Last Key which is the quasi-prequel/sequel that we choose to classify as the second in the timeline.
With that, the Insidious franchise joins the illustrious company of the X-Men
, The Fast And The Furious
and The Terminator
franchises in having one of the most convoluted movie series timelines in history. What it lacks in mutants, The Rock and metal-man Arnold, it more than makes up for by giving audiences around the world a metric ton of jump scares in exchange for their money.
Keeping all this in consideration, I, for one, went in hoping that the story of the film made more sense than its timeline.
Insidious: The Last Key finds Elise Rainer fighting her demons. Before she was sweet old Lin Shaye, she was a troubled child who could see spirits, living with an abusive father, a doting mother and a younger brother. After unleashing an unspeakable evil on her home, Elise escapes the clutches of her vindictive father and subsequently spends her life helping people who have been subject to hauntings.
Even though she decides that she is done with her past, her past is not done with her. On one fateful morning, she gets a call from the new owner of her childhood home asking her to help him exorcise a demonic presence. Elise rounds up her crew, which includes Specs (Legh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), and goes back to Five Keys, New Mexico, to confront her aforementioned personal and professional demons, head on.
To begin with, this movie gets a few points in its favour for having a 74-year-old woman as its lead character. That combined with a plotline that deals with the very heavy theme of redemption are a welcome surprise in a genre that is usually anaemic when it comes to thematic depth. Because the film chooses to take this narrative direction, it adds a handful of scenes fuelled by dread and dripping with consequence. Its prologue and the scene that is used as a transition between the second and third acts act as excellent examples of this.
However, a major chunk of runtime filling the space between these moments works feverishly at deterring the movie from both being unabashedly entertaining from a trashy horror film standpoint and being wholly satisfying from a storytelling perspective. Long stretches of time are populated by either non-scary jump scares or unfunny attempts at inappropriate humour or logical flaws or all of the above at once. And the whole becomes much more unbearable than the sum of the parts.
The movie disregards the previously set rules of The Further with a sense of reckless abandon so much so that its underwhelming finale feels ripped straight out of a sub-standard episode of Naagin or director Kodi Ramakrishna's schlocky '90s devotional dramas Devi and Ammoru. And yes, I've seen 'em all.
The finale will not be the only reason you experience the '90s nostalgia. The movie's primary demon's design and set of powers go hand in hand with the tepid writing. Every time his key-shaped fingers open the door to a new plot point, you will be left amazed at both how low-fi his look is and how sadomasochistic the whole visual aesthetic involving him, his minions and the many women of the film are.
However, no matter how ridiculous these movies get, they are never unwatchable, thanks to the warm and inviting presence of lead actress Lin Shaye. Like Tobin Bell (who keeps the Saw Franchise alive and killing), Lin Shaye brings her A-level acting skill to enhance some B-grade screenwriting and D-grade expository dialogue.
Also, being in her mere presence assures above-average performances from her co-stars who are a tad less talented. However, in the few moments they don't share screen-space with her, their weaknesses in the acting department and the shortcomings of the script are exposed to an alarming degree. This is exemplified in a scene which involves Specs and Tucker comically trying to hypnotize a woman when another woman's life hangs in the balance.
The movie's visual appeal almost makes you forget about this and many other blatantly inappropriate scenes. Every shot is so wonderfully framed, rendered, shot and coloured that it gives this bang average film the look and feel of that of a much more polished work. But the film makes up for this aberration by having an endless series of jump scare noises and the glass-shattering screams of terrified women in place of a decent horror score.
Insidious 4, like others in the franchise, is made to be watched with an audience. When you have a crowd of 200 people screaming, gasping and making fun of the movie unfolding before their eyes, you almost forget to ask pressing questions such as "why does the whistle unleash its ex-machina powers only at the final juncture and never before?" or "how do people sneak up on a demon in a metaphysical realm that is under said demon's control?" or "how can a demon be both locked in a room and roaming around the house at the same time?" or "how does the whistle exist in the both the real and metaphysical realms?" or "why does locking a demon behind a hundred copies of The Bible work any better than locking it behind one copy?"
Ultimately, the movie stays true to the franchise roots and refuses to make logical sense, but powered by Jason Blum's genius production and marketing strategies, Lin Shaye's performance and an execution that isn't as bad as Friday The 13th The Final Chapter or The Nightmare On Elm Street 4: The Dream Master or The Return Of Michael Myers, it ensures that you are in for a decently good time at the movies.