The fourth installment in the Insidious franchise starts with promise and a new story, but genre conventions and bad decisions muddle the entire experience.

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How do you like that summary sentence at the start? Thinking about doing that instead of stupid one liners.

Anyway, Insidious: The Last Key picks up after the third, but before the first in the franchise (yeah time doesn’t really matter, either). This time around we get to follow Elise (Line Shaye) as she returns to her childhood home after reports of a haunting come to her attention. Shaye is the best part of the series, and a major mistake in the third entry was not making it more of her story. At least this one corrects this issue—and a lot of the parts focused on Elise are at least interesting.

We learn that Elise came from a terribly abusive home, and that she accidentally released an evil into the world when she was a child. While this plot line isn’t original, it is at least coherent. The demonic presence released is now haunting the new owner of the home, but he also has a dark secret.

One thing that I think the Insidious universe has done better than most mainstream horror is that there are tangible consequences in the real world from the hauntings. People die in this series, and this simply raises the narrative stakes over the Conjuring universe. I enjoyed the first two films in this series, thought the third sucked, and the fourth honestly just pissed me off.

A major theme of this narrative is violence against women. We see Elise being abused by her drunk father, we encounter a murderer, and a spirit that seems hell bent on capturing women’s souls after torturing them. There are some genuinely powerful moments as these mysteries unfold, and for the first time since the first film there is some true fright. This story seems timely with what is occurring in Hollywood right now, and to see how many young women are silenced in this film marks a tragic reality of gendered and sexual violence in this country.

Where the film absolutely shits the bed is in the characterization of Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson). These two have been in the series since the first, and their silly demeanor injects a bit of humor into the story. They have served as comic relief in the past, but here they truly ruin the film. We meet Elise’s nieces (who appear to be maybe 18) and these two dipfucks relentlessly flirt with them. I use the term flirt likely as they physical space, movement, and so forth is too aggressive to be something so benign. There is a scene where Tucker is blocking one of the niece’s (I can’t remember which) from entering her truck. We are supposed to laugh this off, but anyone with an iota of critical thinking can see how tone deaf this is. The niece’s brush off these advances, which is also a major problem. Shame on this film for actively undermining its own point.

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Why are you even in this story??

Now, I am not simply bitching about a couple of scenes—these are consistent issues that are nearly relentless. Specs and Tucker are given almost as much screen time as Elise, and almost every scene should have been removed. Elise tells them she will go this one alone, but of course they tag along—the movie would have been significantly better if she would have left earlier that morning.

At best we have a half film that is generic, but interesting. The other half (of a bloated 104 minutes) is almost unbearable in its stupidity. Dumb jokes, dumb forced romance, and terrible sequences suck all of the air out of this one. If we get another Insidious film, which we probably will, I hope they only cast Shaye. A story with just her would at least be serviceable. 3/10

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