Blumhouse's Loud Noise and Jump Scare factory churns out another effort, this time from the franchise which kick-started it all. Ever since Darth Maul popped out from behind Patrick Wilson's head, the Insidious series has come to define the studio's signature style; even as they continue to break the mold with gems like Get Out and The Gift, nothing screams 'Blumhouse' like Insidious.
Never mind the diminishing returns; that their best character's arc ended with the first one; that the two Conjuring movies are better than this series has ever been; the show must go on, at least until they can make people care about Sinister instead. Thankfully, Lin Shaye hasn't given up on the series either, and she returns in this second prequel, filling in the remainder of Medium Elise Rainier's past. The comedy sidekicks are back too, but it's a bit like a Joey-heavy episode of Friends.
The Blumhouse formula is not one calculated with subtlety or restraint in mind though, and The Last Key lays on everything it has with a trowel. While that's not always a bad thing, there are only so many jump scares you can throw at an audience before they start to wise up. Its scares are telegraphed and predictable – ninety percent of them being some variation on a demon moving around in the background while Elise looks dead on into the camera. The best shocks are those which come organically with the story, unaccompanied by an obvious demon jumping out with a ‘boo’.
Sadly, those are spoiled too, by a script laden with some of the most horrible exposition ever spoken in a horror film. In a film packed with discoveries and revelations, everything is immediately followed by a line of dialogue explaining what just happened, no matter how obvious it might be. From parking tickets (“oh look, a parking ticket”) to demons (“oh look, a demon”) to plot points (“oh look, a plot point”) everything has to be explained. And yet not once does the film tell us why its head demon is named Key Face when, clearly, it should be Key Fingers. The rest of the dialogue is Leigh Whannell giving himself all of the best lines at the expense of two characters who really should have been the film's leads.
None of this should discredit the fine work Lin Shaye does as Elise, whose humanity, goodness and heroism is a shining beacon in a franchise already well past its halcyon days. The prologue and flashbacks are where the film is at its most affecting and effective, even if this is plagued with cliché and overly basic characterisation too. It's a shame, because the series has a great anchor in Shaye, and this painful, personal story deserved to be her swansong and celebration. Because you know how that whole Insidious thing turns out for her.
While it's too slick and professional to be an outright failure, and it does have some good character moments, it's a condescending, lazy bore, coasting on the efforts of an actress too good for the material at hand. There is a good story at the heart of The Last Key, it's just not the one being told here.
INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ADAM ROBITEL / SCREENPLAY: LEIGH WHANNELL / STARRING: LIN SHAYE, LEIGH WHANNELL, ANGUS SAMPSON, KIRK ACEVEDO / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10