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CINEMASCOPE: NO FEAR FACTOR

January 14, 2018

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The odds weren’t quite stacked in favour of this new Insidious film. Not only is Insidious: The Last Key the fourth installment in the franchise, which is never a good number, but it is also the second prequel which isn’t a good omen either.

To make matters worse, The Last Key is a first-weekend-of-January release, a time slot usually reserved for Hollywood’s worst offerings, and part of the “dump month” when studios put out movies that they are obligated to but have little confidence in commercially. While we are on the subject, the first weekend of January is considered the lowest ebb of the dump month because it takes place right after the holidays when audiences have little disposable income left from their spending sprees.

And like audiences in general, The Last Key feels a bit like a spent movie. From the direction by filmmaker Adam Robitel to the production duties of franchise mastermind James Wan to the screenplay by writer Leigh Whannell, The Last Key comes across as a picture that had to exist rather than one that should.

The jump scares in The Last Key lack creativity and real frights, the reason why we watch horror movies

To start with, the fact that it is yet another prequel with nothing new to say makes it feel like the series is almost filibustering until James Wan has the time to return for a true sequel. And while it is targeting fans of the saga, because it stars characters whose fates we already know, (without giving too much away) the best scenes in the film that show the characters in peril feel anti-climatic as we are already aware of their destiny. Plainly put, why would you care if Character X is about to be creamed by a ghost when you are perfectly aware that they actually bite the dust in a film that takes place years later?

Even though I have seen all of the Insidious films and enjoyed the first two, I must confess that I was left a little confused by the timeline, most likely due to the fact that my brain is going past its shelf life in its middle age. For instance, while Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) is a direct sequel to Insidious (2010), Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) was a prequel to the first, while this film, Insidious: The Last Key (2018) is probably set between the first film and the first prequel.

To make matters worse, The Last Key is a first-weekend-of-January release, a time slot usually reserved for Hollywood’s worst offerings, and part of the “dump month”, when studios put out movies that they are obligated to but have little confidence in commercially. While we are on the subject, the first weekend of January is considered the lowest ebb of the dump month because it takes place right after the holidays when audiences have little disposable income left from their spending sprees.

This isn’t to say that The Last Key is all bad. Its saving grace is the highly-engaging and highly-convincing performance by Lin Shaye as ghost-hunter Elise Rainier. The film explores her past and begins in 1953 where we learn that her younger self (played by Ava Kolker) lived in a haunted house where she realised she had special abilities to make contact with the supernatural. We also learn that although her mother Aubrey (Tessa Ferrer) encouraged her to explore her abilities, her father Gerald (Josh Stewart) was physically abusive.

The rest of the film takes place in 2010 where Elise is hired to banish ghosts from a certain house, and as you may have guessed, it’s the same house she grew up in. Though Elise’s performance and characterisation are interesting, the scares are anything but. Although there is nothing technically wrong with the filmmaking here, aside from a couple of sequences that stood out, the jump scares lack creativity and real frights. And ultimately, that is what we all watch horror movies for, yet it is where this latest chapter fails the most.

Rated PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence, terror, and brief strong language

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 14th, 2018

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