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With: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer, Ava Kolker, Pierce Pope, Bruce Davison, Javier Botet, Marcus Henderson, Hana Hayes
Written by: Leigh Whannell
Directed by: Adam Robitel
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for disturbing thematic content, violence and terror, and brief strong language
Running Time: 103
Date: 01/05/2018

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Psychic & Sidekicks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Opening Friday in theaters everywhere, Insidious: The Last Key is the fourth in the horror franchise, taking place after the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 but before Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2.

That may sound confusing, but the good news is that The Last Key this time focuses entirely on Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and her two knucklehead sidekicks, Specs (Leigh Whannell, who also wrote or co-wrote all four films) and Tucker (massive, gravel-voiced Angus Sampson).

In earlier films, Elise was a supporting character, a paranormal investigator with a special gift for seeing spirits. Despite her sweet, soulful face and smallish, weathered frame, she tread bravely into all kinds of ghostly realms.

Insidious: Chapter 3 gave her a flashback-origin story. Here she's helping herself, investigating events in her own childhood house.

As a child, her brutal father (Josh Stewart) beat her and locked her in the basement every time she saw a ghost; she saw a lot of them, as their house was located close to a prison where executions regularly take place.

Now a man named Garza (Kirk Acevedo) lives there, and he is terrified by malevolent things. He calls Elise, and she returns to her hometown of Five Keys, New Mexico for the first time in decades.

However, there's something quite unusual about these ghosts.

Insidious: The Last Key is directed by Adam Robitel, who previously made something called The Taking of Deborah Logan and co-wrote the worst of the Paranormal Activity movies, The Ghost Dimension.

In other words, he's a second stringer, taking over for the highly talented James Wan, who directed the first two Insidious entries, and Whannell, who directed the third and has worked with Wan since the beginning, on their 2004 hit Saw.

It shows. While Robitel tries to follow the playbook and stages some fine, scary scenes using open, three-dimensional space — a scene with Elise making a discovery inside a tube-shaped fan-duct is terrific — he also resorts to the usual loud noises and jump-scares.

His touch with the emotional scenes, as when Elise is reunited with her long-estranged younger brother, Christian (Bruce Davison), isn't quite as sure. The drama feels a bit clunky and soapy.

As it rushes to its climax, the movie unwisely tries to play up silly flirtations between Specs and Tucker and Christian's cute teen daughters (Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard).

This splits up the otherwise dependable dynamic between the very serious, deeply spiritual Elise and her doofus assistants, who could be rejects from Scooby-Doo.

Yet, whatever troubles it has, the real key to this series is Ms. Shaye, a wonderful, longtime character actress whom moviegoers might remember as the leather-skinned "Magda" in There's Something About Mary.

In her seventies now, she has only recently come into her own thanks to the horror genre; she's a welcome presence, both vulnerable and seasoned, in any eerie story.

Even if Insidious: The Last Key isn't quite up to the level of its spookily satisfying predecessors, it may be worth a look just for her.

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