When I last left Insidious with its third chapter, I noted how this horror series finally found its groove in Lin Shaye playing a kick-butt psychic Elise with her lovable ghost-hunting duo of Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell) in tow. But The Last Key seems to settle in almost too comfortable with its characters. For a story that details more of Elise’s past, it feels strangely casual with its dark origins, accented with the cute comradery of the paranormal-investigating trio. Don’t get me wrong; I still love this collection of characters, but something so personal as this felt like it should have been more than, as Elise describes her work, another day at the office.
Let’s take a moment to acknowledge the fun chemistry between Shaye, Sampson, and Whannell. Few horror films that go for the easy jumpscares and messy logic of investigating ghosts rarely give us such a likable group. Their antics are amusing with Shaye’s motherly leadership, Sampson’s big-lug nature, and Spec’s awkwardly chipper way of trying to wedge into the conversation. Even though they’re working with a script that’s requiring their charisma to be stretched as far as it can go, they become such a lovable pack that they could have their own series. This is why it’s a bit disheartening that this film feels like the sputtering end to their journey.
Their latest case involves the house where Elise grew up. The newest owner has been experiencing some hauntings in the house and is in need of some help. Elise is reluctant at first but realizes she can’t run from the past, only barrel towards it with Tucker and Specs in their new ghost-hunting RV. She arrives to discover the house is still housing a ghastly monster that brandishes keys on its fingertips, using each one to lock out a sense of your soul. It’s a pretty creepy creature in design, but, as with everything in The Last Key, feels underutilized for all its terror. The most frightening things you’ll see him do is shove keys in your flesh and smack you across a room. Paranormal demons apparently have wicked backhands.
The enjoyment of the story depends on how accepting you can be of the multitude of twists and revelations thrown at the screen. The more Elise delves into her past, the more crazy stuff she discovers. She grew up believing her powers made her mad, but maybe she wasn’t all that crazy. She thought she was the only one, but perhaps there is another. The current occupant of the house is a drunk, but maybe he’s more. The movie continues to spin these crazy surprises around every turn, just in case the many jump scares don’t make your eyes wide.
It’s sad that a film series such as this resorts to an onslaught of crazy plot additions without bothering to explore much of what it already has. There’s heaps of wasted potential that mounts almost as high as the twists. Elise grew up in a house close to a prison where the flickering electricity meant a death row inmate had passed on. She mentions some spirits, but we rarely see them. Sure, there’s a prison motif in The Further, the paranormal realm that Elise has the power to travel within, but it never showcases much past the smoke and cages. There’s a lot to unpack that nearly all the dialogue is reduced to simple exposition, robbing the film of its more remarkable moments where Elise reconnects with her brother and Tucker and Specs hopelessly try to woo two sisters they meet in town.