Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Insidious: The Last Key (2018) - Movie Review

The plot: Spiritual medium Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye), along with her colleagues Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell), has once again been called upon to help with a paranormal disturbance... only this one proves more personal for Elise than before. As she returns to her childhood home, she is forced to confront not only her own past but also a demonic presence that has been influencing events for a very long time.

If this truly ends up being the finale of this series, it can boast that it managed to wring the best performance out of Lin Shaye because it is startling how good she is here. Shouldering a lot of survivor’s guilt and a few figurative skeletons in the closet, she brings the character that she has built up over the last nine years to a point where it feels like that journey was genuinely leading somewhere. She’s warm, effective, likely to make you cry at a few points and maybe even cheer as she gives what for to the spook of the day. To that end, Sampson and Whannell are still good as Tucker and Specs, balancing out their more… awkward tendencies, not to mention Sampson’s latest affront to hairdressing standards, with a lot of charm and vitality.

Bruce 'Senator Kelly' Davison as Elise’s estranged brother makes for a highly emotional performance, with his on-screen chemistry next to Shaye allowing the rather complex relationship the two have to burst right out of the frame. Credit also to the actors playing the younger Elise and Christian here, as they share a comparable level of finely-tuned rapport as their older counterparts. Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard make for some sunnier presences that give the middle of the film some much-needed warmth, while Josh Stewart as Elise and Christian’s father makes for the most heinous character this series has produced so far. No amount of lipsticked-smeared demons and key-fingered creatures (honestly, Javier Botet as The Man With The Keys is pretty damn cool, both in concept and in methodology) can compare to the sheer dickery of this guy.

Sadly, we do not have Whannell in the director’s seat this time around, although he does thankfully return once again as writer. Instead, we have Adam Robitel, who we checked in on with 2015’s woeful conclusion to the Paranormal Activity series The Ghost Dimension. Considering his place in a veritable sardine tin of a writer’s room on that film, where it seems like no good ideas were coming out of it at any point, how does he do at contributing to yet another supposed conclusion to a horror franchise? Well, he kind of falls through the cracks as far as visuals go. He doesn’t show the same fidelity to old-school horror that James Wan did on the first two outings, nor does he show a sense of claustrophobic framing that Whannell did in Chapter 3. This would be fine if he was just standing out and making his own mark on the series except, outside of using the now-tiresome blue/orange colour dichotomy to distinguish between certain parts of the film’s timeline, there’s nothing all that special to be found here in how this film looks. There’s a definite understanding of how to make the tension of a given scene stick, between Robitel’s direction, Toby Oliver’s camerawork (Get Out, Happy Death Day) and Timothy Alverson’s editing (Orphan, Insidious: Chapter 3), but nothing that ends up distinguishing this from any other film in the franchise.

Which is something of a shame because, even though Robitel only sticks to the series’ standard, Whannell seems to be going for something greater with his scripting here. Aside from explicitly making the story all about Elise, meaning that we get a hefty serving of one of this series’ greatest strengths (Lin Shaye’s performance), he builds on the series’ bigger recurring themes to make for something that, in contrast to the visuals, definitely stands out against what came before. It still taps into the same well of family dynamics and hereditary connections to the dead, but this time around, it feels like it has a very pointed purpose in doing so. A lot of the film involves coming to terms with the past in a very visceral, mental-wounds-that-are-still-healing fashion, particularly with how Elise’s childhood is depicted. When I said that her father is the most heinous thing in any of these films, I absolutely mean it; very rarely do fictional characters make me want to see awful things happen to them, but Mr. “If there’s one thing you’ve been doing all your life, it’s asking for it” certainly fits that bill. What’s more, because of how that specific pairing informs the rest of the narrative, this can get incredibly depressing in how it shows these attitudes and actions repeating over time.

But more so than that, this film strikes a serious chord with me because it taps into my now-well-established appreciation for stories concerning ‘The Other’. I brought up Bruce Davison’s most recognised role earlier because, with how this film talks about prejudice and how those with ‘special talents’ are shunned by society, this can feel like a once-removed X-Men film at times. However, that’s only the surface of what’s happening here. Digging in a little deeper, we see not only how that kind of prejudice can grow and spread through generations, but that not directly dealing with them is what fosters that growth. Or even worse, trying to fight anger with more anger, another topic I've discussed at length on this blog before.
When this ties into the methods of The Man With The Keys, we get a more direct look at how these behaviours end up locking us into perpetuating them. Given this film primarily showing women to be the victims of the various nasty creatures within the story, both human and demon, it makes for a decent feminist piece on top of everything else. It’s because of this that the finale between Elise and the demon is as powerful as it is, combining this new-found surge of feminine strength with the series’ depiction of parental figures for one hell of a punch. One that also makes this film’s place in the timeline (shortly before the events of the first film) feel appropriate and lending emotional weight to the events of what comes next. For a tentative conclusion to a series, this manages to close the loop rather nicely and make it feel like this specific progression was done for a reason.

All in all, the supposed curtain call for the Insidious series turns out pretty damn good. The acting is solid, with Lin Shaye giving her all to deliver some rather complex feels, the writing builds on the series’ mythos while adding in some more topical elements to create genuine emotional resonance, and while the visuals aren’t exactly much to write home about (and yes, I get the irony in me writing down a statement like that), Adam Robitel at least manages to make this film feel scary where it needs to. Given this film’s emphasis on pathos rather than scares, this might turn a few genre fans away, but for those who have kept up with the series until this point, this is most certainly worth checking out. I mean, a satisfying conclusion to a film series; how likely are we to get another one of these anytime soon.

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