Leigh Whannell returns as the screenwriter in the fourth film in James Wan's Insidious series. Whannell directed Insidious Chapter 3 but Adam Robitel takes the helm here after directing the creepy The Taking of Deborah Logan. Whannell and Robitel shift the series focus finally to the hero of the franchise, Lin Shaye's paranormal investigator Elise.
The film opens with Elise as a young girl living in Five Keys, New Mexico in a house near a prison. The prison regularly executes prisoners, keeping the house swimming with ghosts. Elise's father works at the prison and makes sure Elise and her younger brother Christian know all about the methods of punishment he uses. His abuse is often physical and in response to Elise's claims at seeing ghosts. After Elise sees a terrifying vision of a demon with keys for hands that ends in the death of her mother, she flees home never to return.
Insidious fans know what Elise has made of her life since running away from her abusive father. At the end of the previous film, she meets her sidekicks in ghost hunting Specs (Whannell himself) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). A call one night from Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo), the current resident of her childhood home, sends Elise and the gang back to Five Keys to uncover the nature of the key-handed demon from her childhood.
The Last Key separates itself from the first two Insidious films by being more emotionally charged. This is a story about the cycles of abuse. It is refreshing in some ways that the film has such a focus on reality-based fears. However, what has been lost is Wan's weirder sensibilities that made the first film so unique. Often this film falls into familiar haunted house beats and cheap jump scares rather than building upon the ideas in the first two films. The Further here feels more like a necessary call-back than something necessary to the story for instance.
The Last Key does feature a few great elements though. It is a joy to see Lin Shaye get a movie all to herself and she gives another strong performance as Elise. The comic relief in the film provided by Specs and Tucker often lands. These elements help to combat some of the lazy aspects of the storytelling and the somewhat uninspired scare moments. The final twist feels stolen from another related horror universe for example. In fact, the entire third act has some problems as it quickly introduces new characters and then asks us to care about their fate.
The Insidious franchise has produced four watchable, sometimes frightening films now. It doesn't seem like the franchise is over yet so hopefully, Shaye will get one final, great send off before this series wraps.