Saturday, February 24, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: Insidious: The Last Key

Insidious: The Last Key was written by Leigh Whannell and directed by Adam Robitel.

Whannell is an Australian actor, producer, director and writer. He previously wrote Saw (both the original short film and the full-length feature), Saw II, Saw III, Dead Silence, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2, Cooties (which I liked quite a bit) and The Mule (Which is about a man transporting drugs in his rectum, who has to keep from pooping them out for four day or else be arrested. No, really). He also played the character of Specs in Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2 and Insidious: Chapter 3. And he had a small part in The Bye Bye Man, which I'm sure he considers his proudest achievement.

Robitel is primarily an actor with just a couple of directing credits under his belt. He previously directed a couple of shorts, along with The Taking Of Deborah Logan (?).

So how is it? In a word, "meh." This is the fourth film in the Insidious franchise, which is definitely starting to feel its age. The Last Key is a largely scare-free affair, and feels like it's barely able to wheeze across the finish line. 

It doesn't help that this film is yet another prequel, which means there are few if any surprises. We've already seen the futures of series heroine Elise Ranier and her ghost bro pals Specs and Tucker in Insidious 1 & 2, so we know nothing of any importance can happen to them here. Since they're the only characters we care about and their futures are set in stone— why bother watching this installment?

Not to mention the fact that storywise, The Last Key puts the final nail in the franchise' coffin. The end of the film dovetails directly into the beginning of the original Insidious. With the circle now completed, there's literally nowhere for the story to go. I suppose they could try pumping out another prequel or two, but the series' timeline is already twisted enough without making it even more complicated.

In terms of plot, there's nothing here that we haven't already seen three times before. Somebody's being haunted by a ghost, and psychic exterminator Elise shows up to chase it off. Lather, rinse, repeat.

I suppose there might be a message in it somewhere about the effects of childhood trauma and PTSD, as we see flashbacks to Elise's shocking and violent childhood. Unfortunately this concept is given so little focus that the filmmakers might as well not have bothered.

There're also tons of coincidence in this film (as there have been all through the series), as Elise gets a job exorcising demons from a house— that just happens to be the one she grew up in. She meets a ghost who just happens to be the spirit of a woman her murderous dad killed years ago. And she runs into two teen girls who just happen to be her own nieces! Wow, what are the odds? As always, coincidence is the crutch of the lazy writer.

The film isn't all bad though. As always, the wonderful Lin Shaye manages to elevate the material, giving it much more depth and impact than it otherwise would have. Shaye's ghostbusting heroine Elise Ranier is a true badass, one who deserves to be in a better movie.

Shaye obviously realizes the rare opportunity she's been given here, and throws herself headfirst into the role. Her character is both fearless and intensely vulnerable, which makes her all the more likable and appealing.

Speaking of Elise, I'd like to point out how unusual it is to have a franchise with a female lead. One who's in her seventies as well! Most horror films are targeted toward the tween crowd, so it's a pretty ballsy move to cast a septuagenarian as the hero of a film series!

The SJW crowd is always whining about the lack of diversity and roles for women in Hollywood— especially older women. Welp, here's a four film franchise staring a strong, intelligent and independent elderly woman. I'll bet she even passes the "Blechhhdell Test" or whatever the hell they call it. And guess what? I've not heard a single peep of praise for Lin Shaye's performance or for Blumhouse Studios for casting her.

That's because SJWs only like to bitch and moan about supposed injustices. They can't be bothered to actually praise a studio when it does something right! As far as I'm concerned, these assholes can go screw themselves. You don't get to boo unless you're willing to cheer as well.

Lastly, I don't usually point out film producers, but I'm making an exception in this case. James Wan is the producer of Insidious: The Last Key. He created the original Saw film, and produced Saw II through VIIAnnabelleInsidious: Chapter 3Lights Out, Annabelle: Creation and Jigsaw. He directed SawInsidiousThe ConjuringInsidious: Chapter 2 and The Conjuring 2.

My point? Well, James Wan and Leigh Whannel have done it again! For at least the second time now, they've screwed themselves over by killing off the main character in the first installment of a popular film franchise!

In Saw, they gave us John Kramer, aka The Jigsaw Killer, who was suffering from cancer. He ended up dying at the end of the third film, and the series has been struggling with his loss ever since, as the writers have to come up with increasingly convoluted ways to keep including a main character who's dead.

They did the exact same thing in the Insidious franchise. They inexplicably killed off Elise Ranier at the end of the original Insidious. Once again, the series has had to bend over backwards in order to keep including her. She returned as a ghost in the second film, and the third and fourth were both prequels, set years before her death.

Someone needs to sit Wan and Whannel down and explain to them how franchises work. If you want to have a SERIES of films, then it's probably best to NOT kill off the main character in the first outing. Makes it tough to keep going when you do that. Best to either not kill 'em off at all, or at least wait until you're sure the series is over. It's really not that tough to understand.

Despite the fact that the film is more of the same and not the least bit scary, it's a massive box office hit for Blumhouse Studios. So far it's made $164 million worldwide ($67 million of that here in the States against its minute $10 million budget!

Every film in the series has had a similar budget and gross, making it one of the more reliable and profitable franchises out there.This film ends by merging right into the beginning of the original Insidious. Since Elise dies at the end of the first film, this pretty much means the series is over. I'm sure though that if the box office is high enough, they'll figure out a way around this.

SPOILERS!


If you're like me, you've probably forgotten what the hell happened in the previous three Insidious films. Here's a quick rundown:

Insidious:
Josh Lambert, his wife Renai and their three kids move into a new home. After an accident, their son Dalton falls into a coma. Soon after Renai begins seeing ghosts in the house. Naturally he doesn't believe her, until his mother Lorraine begins seeing them as well.


Lorraine contacts her ghost-busting friend Elise Rainier. She arrives with her assistants Specs & Tucker, and they begin investigating the house. 


Elise explains that Dalton has the power of astral projection, and his spirit is trapped in a supernatural realm called The Further. She says while Dalton's body is empty, dangerous entities are trying to move into it so they'll have physical form. She senses that Josh is coincidentally an astral projector as well, and tells him he has to enter The Further to bring back his son.


Josh enters The Further and wanders into the lair of the red faced Lipstick Demon. He finds Dalton cowering there and frees him. As they run for their lives, Josh sees the ghost of an Old Woman and for some reason shouts that he's not afraid of her (?). Josh and Dalton then wake up in the real world.

Later the family recovers in the kitchen. Elise looks at old photos of Josh, and notices something in the background of one. On impulse she whips out her camera and snaps a picture of Josh. He shrieks that he doesn't like being photographed (who does?) and strangles Elise to death!


Renai enters and finds Elise dead and Josh gone. She picks up Elise's camera, and sees the photo she took of Josh— which looks like the shadowy Old Woman from The Further. We then realize Josh is possessed, just as he sneaks up behind Renai and puts his hand on her shoulder.

Insidious: Chapter 2:
The movie begins in 1986, when Lorraine Lambert discovers her young son Josh is being haunted by the spirit of an Old Woman (the same one from the first movie). She calls her ghost-busting friend Elise Ranier for help. Elise examines Josh and discovers he's an astral projector, who regularly sends his spirit into The Further. She suppresses his powers before he's possessed by the Old Woman.


Cut to the present day, just after the events of the first film. The police question Josh and his wife Renai about the death of Elise (who Josh killed while possessed by the Old Woman). For some reason the fingerprints on Elise's neck don't match Josh's (I guess when you're possessed, your prints change?), so he's off the hook (!).


The Lamberts then move in with Lorraine to escape their haunted house. It doesn't work, as the ghosts follow them to their new digs. The family begins hearing voices and seeing ghosts again, including a woman in white..


Specs & Tucker go through Elise's things, and find an old videotape from 1986. In it, she's questioning Young Josh. Oddly enough they notice a ghostly image of Adult Josh standing behind his younger self. They contact a man named Carl, who performs a seance to contact Elise. They get ahold of her, and she tells them Lorraine has all the answers.


They question Lorraine, who was once a doctor. She treated a patient named Parker Crane, who ended up killing himself while in the hospital. They investigate the Crane home and find a secret room full of corpses and a black wedding gown, which Crane wore when he killed his victims (kinky!). 


Meanwhile, Josh's body begins to deteriorate, and they realize the Old Woman who possessed him is really the evil spirit of Parker Crane— in drag! Possessed Josh begins choking Carl, and he wakes up in The Further. There he meets Real Josh's spirit, and the two work to escape. They're overpowered by a demon, but the ghost of Elise arrives just in time to save them, banishing the spirit from Lorraine's house.


In the real world, Josh (still possessed by Parker) chases after Renai and his kids, along with Lorraine. He traps them all in the basement and moves in to kill them. Inside The Further, Real Josh, Carl and Elise track down Parker's spirit and eventually defeat him, causing him to disappear. This saves the Lamberts in the real world as well. Dalton then enters The Further to lead everyone out. Cal hypnotizes Josh and Dalton, to suppress their memories of The Further.


Later, Specs & Tucker continue the ghostbusting business on their own. When they arrive at the home of a family who's been having trouble with spirits, a little girl answers the door. She asks, "Who's the woman behind you?" The guys turn and see no one, but the little girl sees the ghost of Elise, who tells her, "Shhh!"


Insidious: Chapter 3:
Sometime before the events of Insidious, a teen girl named Quinn Brenner visits Elise Ranier, saying she wants to contact her recently deceased mother Lillith. Elise attempts a reading, but stops when she hears a demonic voice threaten to kill her. She warns Quinn, "If you call out to one of the dead, all of them can hear you."


Sure enough, Quinn starts seeing ghosts, and is hit by car after being distracted by one. She's then confined to bed with two broken legs. After a while she's repeatedly attacked by a demonic corpse wearing a breathing mask. When the attacks worsen, her father Sean contacts Elise for help. 

Elise arrives and reluctantly enters The Further. She sees a limbless version of Quinn floating around, and realizes part of her soul is trapped inside the spirit realm. The Breathing Mask Demon then attacks Elise and very nearly kills her. She returns to the real world and refuses to enter The Further again. Elise visits her friend Carl, who's also a spiritual psychic, and he tells her she's much stronger than she thinks. 

Meanwhile, a desperate Sean contacts two "ghost bros" named Specs & Tucker. After a disastrous attempt at rescuing Quinn's spirit from The Further, Sean realizes the two men have no idea what they're doing, and he needs Elise. Fortunately she's willing to help again after Carl's pep talk.

Elise enters The Further and when the Demon attacks, she easily defeats him. Unfortunately it grabs Quinn's spirit and scuttles away with it. Elise returns to the real world, and says Quinn has to fight this battle alone. She and the others lay their hands on Quinn's real body, willing her the strength to fight the demon. 

Elise hears a voice and realizes its Lillith, Quinn's late mother. She uses the power of love or something to banish the Demon once and for all and free her daughter's spirit from The Further. Elise decides to team up with Specs & Tucker, and we realize this is their origin story.

OK, we're all caught up. On With Insidious: The Last Key:

The Plot:
The year is 1953. The place is Five Keys, New Mexico (subtle!). Young Elise Rainier lives with her family— father Gerald, mother Audrey and younger brother Christian— in a creepy old house which is inexplicably next to an even creepier prison. Elise, the hero of the Insidious franchise, has supernatural powers that allow her to see ghosts. Due to its proximity to the prison, her home is lousy with the spirits of executed convicts.

Audrey supports Elise and encourages her to develop her power. Gerald doesn't believe in ghosts though, and regularly beats Elise anytime she mentions such foolishness. One night Audrey tucks the kids into bed, and gives Christian a tin whistle. She tells him to blow it any time he's scared, and she'll come running to help (PLOT POINT!). He puts it around his neck and goes to sleep. Later that night Elise sees a ghost in their room and lets out a scream. A furious Gerald bursts in, beats her with a cane (!) and locks her in the basement until she admits there's no such thing as ghosts.

Elise explores the basement (is this the first time she's ever been in there?) and finds a locked door. A voice tells her to unlock it, and when she does, she's possessed by a demon called Key Face. Im not quite sure why he's called that, as his fingers end in old fashioned keys. Shouldn't he be "Key Hands?" Anyway, Audrey sneaks downstairs to check on Elise, but she's killed when the demon animates an electrical wire and hangs her with it. Gerald roars downstairs and finds his wife dead, just as the demon releases Elise.

Cut to Elise, now in her sixties, waking up in the "present" day of 2010. Elise (played by Lin Shaye) works as a paranormal investigator with her two young and nerdy "ghost bro" colleagues, Specs (played by screenwriter Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (played by Angus Sampson). She receives a call from a man named Ted Garza, who says he needs a ghost evicted from his home. When she asks his address, she's stunned to discover Garza lives in her childhood home in Five Keys! Coincidence, thy name is the Insidious franchise! Shaken, she tells him she can't help and hangs up.

After a while Elise realizes she's the one who freed Garza's demon in the first place. She decides to return to her old home all and rid the place of the demon once and for all. She tells Specs and Tucker this is something she has to do alone, but they insist on coming along.

They arrive at the house and Elise pauses a moment before tentatively entering. Garza greets her, and says the ghostly activity has been increasing lately. He says the incidents are concentrated in Elise's old bedroom, which he's boarded up. She enters and looks around, flooded by old memories. She looks under her bed and finds Christian's old whistle there. She also finds her father's giant key ring in one of his old uniforms (why would that still be in the house after someone else moved in?).

That night Elise explores the basement, as Specs and Tucker monitor her on their ghostbusting equipment. They see a lady ghost on their screen, standing just in front of Elise, but she can't see anything. Just then Elise is attacked by the ghost, which grabs the whistle and screams "Help her!"

This triggers a flashback in Elise, to when she was sixteen. She sees a ghostly woman run into their laundry room, and goes to investigate. When Gerald asks her what the hell's going on, she tells him she saw a ghost. He grabs his cane, but before he can beat her Elise flees the house and never looks back, leaving her brother Christian behind. Remember all this, as it'll become important later on.

The next day Elise and the guys visit a diner. She notices two teen girls, Melissa and Imogen, who seem familiar to her somehow. She begins talking with them, and realizes they're her nieces. Another coincidence! Just then her brother Christian enters, now in his fifties. He's still pissed that Elise left him alone with their monster of a father, and tells her to piss off and stay away from his daughters. Elise hands Melissa a photo of the tin whistle and tells her to show it to Christian.

That night Elise explores the house again with Tucker, while Specs monitors them in the van. Elise hears the tin whistle, which leads her down to the basement. She discovers that part of the wall is actually a door, and uses her father's keys to open it. Inside she sees a ghostly woman chained to the wall. Suddenly the woman grabs her, and Elise is stunned to see she's not a ghost after all! She turns around and sees Garza in the doorway, and realizes he's been keeping the woman captive in the secret room. He throws Tucker into the room and locks them all inside.

Specs hears what's going on and runs into the house. Garza chases him through the place, intent on killing him. Specs hides behind a heavy bookcase, and knocks it over onto Garza, smashing his head flat (!). That seemed needlessly violent!

Elise tells the police that Garza was keeping a woman in his own personal dungeon, and then pretended he saw ghosts and called her because... well, I'm not sure why. Anyway, that's the end of the movie! Goodnight, everybo... what? It's not the end? There's still an hour to go? Sigh...

Inside the police station, Elise sees a ghostly image of her niece Melissa and screams, which freaks out the detective who's been questioning her. She realizes Melissa's in danger and runs back to her house.

Meanwhile, Christian, Melissa and Imogen show up at Garza's house for some reason. I guess they're looking for Elise? They split up and explore the place. Melissa goes down to the basement and is immediately grabbed by Key Face. He sticks one of his finger keys through the skin of her throat, which instantly silences her, which I have to admit was pretty cool. He sticks another finger key into her chest, which steals her soul (I guess) and puts her into a coma.

Elise, Tucker and Specs arrive at the house and find the unconscious Melissa in the basement. A furious Christian tells Elise to stay away from his daughter, and takes her to the hospital. Imogen stays behind, and admits to Elise she has powers just like her. Elise vows to save Melissa and defeat Key Face once and for all.

Elise and Tucker return to the basement to search for a red door, so she can enter The Further (aka the spirit world) and battle Key Face. Elise finds a wadded up nightgown in a vent, and realizes it belonged to the "Help Her Ghost" from earlier in the film. The MOVIE then has its own flashback, as we see the day Elise thought she saw a ghost in the laundry room. This "ghost" was actually a real woman named Anna, and when Gerald looked into the laundry room, he pretended he saw nothing and then prepared to beat Elise for "lying." After this incident caused Elise to leave home, Gerald beat Anna to death (!).

Elise then finds a large vent, enters it and discovers it's stuffed full of large suitcases. She examines them and finds each one contains the personal effects— and the skull— of a woman held captive and killed by the men who owned the house over the years. As she opens the final suitcase, Key Face somehow leaps out of it and pulls Elise into The Further. This leaves her body unconscious in the real world.

Imogen realizes it's up to her to rescue Melissa and Elise. She enters The Further, where she's greeted by Anna's ghost. She leads Imogen to an infinite corridor, lined on each side with prison cells. Each cell contains the soul of someone abducted by Key Face. Elise wakes in a cell, and realizes that Key Face has been causing deaths inside the house for decades, so he could feed off the fear and misery of his victims.

Suddenly her dad Gerald appears, and Elise begins attacking him. She stops when she realizes this is exactly what Key Face wants, and refuses to feed him with any more hate. Key Face then starts choking her, as she croaks out a cry for help. Gerald's ghost hears her, and— apparently feeling repentant— attacks him. Key Face stabs him, causing his soul to evaporate. So... I guess ghosts can be killed then?

Key Face then stabs Melissa in the chest, causing her real body to convulse in the hospital. He then inserts his key finger into Elise's throat, robbing her of her voice so she can't call for help. Just as he's about to stab her in the heart, Imogen throws her the tin whistle. Elise catches the whistle and blows it. This summons the ghost of her mother Audrey, who appears just as promised (told you it was a Plot Point!). Audrey uses the power of love or some hooey to punch Key Face right out of the movie. Seriously!

Elise hugs her mother, and apologizes for releasing the demon that killed her. She says it's no big deal, but warns them they've all got to leave The Further. Elise, Melissa and Imogen's souls then return to the real world. Elise and Imogen's bodies wake up inside the house, while Melissa wakes up in her hospital bed as her body stops convulsing.

Elise and Imogen arrive at the hospital, where Christian finally forgives his sister. She gives him the tin whistle.

Back in her own home, Elise dreams of a boy named Dalton, who's menaced by a Lipstick Demon. She wakes up a second before her phone rings. It's Renai Lambert, who says there's something wrong with her son Dalton, and she needs help. Elise says she'll be there first thing in the morning, as this film dovetails into the beginning of the original Insidious.


Thoughts:

• There's honestly not a lot to say about this movie. It's tough to nitpick since much of it takes place in the spirit world of The Further, where things don't have to make sense.

• Overall this is a pretty mediocre film, but there were a couple of things that stood out:

First off is actress Lin Shaye, the MVP of the Insidious franchise. I like her quite a bit, and it's always great to see her onscreen.

Secondly, I loved the scene in which the inaccurately named "Key Face" sticks his key-finger through the skin of Melissa's throat, turns it and silences her voice. That was pretty damned awesome, and something I've never seen in a horror film before! Kudos to whoever thought up that bit.

That's it! That's all the good stuff I got! On with the bitching!

• In this movie and the previous one, Elise has a dog named "Warren." Is... is that a little in-joke? I'm betting it's a reference to famed paranormal investigators Ed & Lorraine Warren, the heroes of The Conjuring films (which, like the first two Insidious films, were directed by James Wan).

• The poster for Insidious: The Last Key looks a LOT like the one for the 1985 movie House. Homage, blatant ripoff or unfortunate coincidence?

• As is frustratingly typical these days, the trailer for Insidious: The Last Key features several scenes that aren't in the final film.

For example, in the trailer Elise enters The Further, which manifests itself as a vast prison that stretches off into infinity.

Suddenly the prison doors squeak open (I guess this jail doesn't lock up its inmates?) and a host of creepy looking spirits emerge.

Including this freaky-as-hell one, which hisses, "Thisss way" to Elise.

Note that NONE of these ghosts are in the actual film. Not a single one. I don't get it. They looked truly unsettling and disturbing, and would have been a welcome addition to this virtually scare-free film. Why take 'em out?

• Speaking of the corridor scene, I couldn't help but notice there's something seriously wrong with it visually. Obviously Lin Shaye's standing in front of a greenscreen here and staring at nothing, as the corridor was added in later. To my eyes it looks like the perspective is way off— like the hallway is slanting up at the end.

In art school we were taught that when working with perspective, the horizon line is always level with the eye line of the viewer. Since our point of view is pretty much even with Elise's, the horizon should be level with her eyes. As you can see by the red line I added, it clearly isn't. The vanishing point is MUCH too high. It makes Elise look like she's about four feet tall.

I fired up Photoshop and took the liberty of adjusting the vanishing point and horizon line so it's level with her eye line. See? Doesn't that look a lot better, and much more realistic? You're welcome, Blumhouse!

Insidious: The Last Key is a scare-free, by-the-numbers installment of a franchise that's definitely run its course. It's elevated quite a bit though by the presence of the always wonderful Lin Shaye, who gives her character of Elise Ranier a sense of both toughness and vulnerability. Unfortunately not even her presence can save this yawnfest. I give it a C+.

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