Friday, January 05, 2018

Insidious: The Last Key

By now, Elise Rainer ought to rank as one of America’s most popular psychic paranormal investigators. Yet many fans probably just refer to her as Lin Shaye in the Insidious movies. Over $370 million in world-wide business makes the case pretty clearly. Even if the fourth and final instalment does Hangman level business, the Blumhouse-produced series will still be highly profitable overall. However, the latest shrewdly plays to the franchise’s strengths, focusing on the fan favorite actress and her demon-busting character. Rainer’s latest case hits uncomfortably close to home. In fact, she will be called to the house where she lived as miserable child in Adam Robitel’s Insidious: The Last Key (trailer here), which opens today across the country.

Rainer herself says the old domicile is a house, but it was never a home. Its proximity to a prison graveyard probably did not help. Rainer always had psychic powers, despite her psychotic father’s attempts to literally beat it out of her. It is hard to say which was more frightening to the young girl: his abusive rage or the swarms of spirits inhabiting their space. Eventually, things got so bad, Rainer ran away from home, never looking back, even though she left behind her equally terrified little brother Christian.

Decades later, but before the events of the first two Insidious films, Rainer gets a desperate call from the current resident, seeking her help as an exorcist. Despite her initial reluctance, Rainer duly heads back home, accompanied by her goofball assistants, Tucker and Specs. Her reunion with her brother does not go well, but her nieces are more welcoming, especially Imogen, who also has the shine. Naturally, the supernatural goings-on in the house are so bad, Rainer will once again have to venture into “The Further,” the demonic astral realm you really do not want to visit.

Last Key is the fourth Insidious film, but it is the second chronologically, in that typically confusing genre film kind of way. This time around, it is helmed by Adam Robitel, who directed the under-heralded, over-achieving The Taking of Deborah Logan. That film was distinguished by its eerie atmosphere and masterfully slow building tension, which is why it is so surprising to find Robitel so heavily relying on jump scares this time around.

On the other hand, he manages to capitalize on the film’s extensive mythology to deepen the atmosphere of dread, rather than getting hamstrung by it all. In fact, the first two acts are quite effective, thanks to the confined setting and the tangibly corrupting influence of the past. Alas, the showdown in the Further just descends into ridiculousness.

Nevertheless, Rainer is an appealing character and Shaye is a national treasure. She would probably be a Kennedy Center Honoree by now, if scruffy horror movies were not her specialty. Franchise screenwriter Leigh Wannel and Angus Sampson do their thing as Rainer’s sidekicks. As Caitlin Rainer, Caitlin Gerard also shows sufficient presence and wherewithal to withstand all the uncanny woo-woo stuff swirling around them. Plus, Kirk Acevedo really keeps viewers guessing as the current occupant who calls in Rainer.

In terms of execution, Last Key is just okay, but it should be rewarding for horror fans to see Rainer get some closure (it shouldn’t be spoilery to imply she survives, since it is a prequel-sequel). Franchise fans can probably safely wait for VOD rather than slogging through the snow, but for diehards, it opens today in theaters across the City, including the AMC Empire and the Regal E-Walk across the street.