Review: INSIDIOUS 4: THE LAST KEY

I'm going to drop two names on you. Leigh Whannell. Jason Blum. These guys have crafted some of the most indomitable franchises in modern horror history. You toss James Wan and Oren Peli into the mix and you have a murderer's row of contemporary masters of horror. So when do all four of these titans get together? For Insidious.

Since 2011, the Blumhouse production has become one of the biggest and most relevant series to hit the mass public and here we are in 2018 with another new entry. It's not always easy to carry a series so far into a run, especially making them consistently good, but I'm here to tell you that newcomer Adam Robitel, with backing from screenwriter Leigh Whannell and acting powerhouse Lin Shaye, has delivered a fast-paced, emotional picture that is the perfect way to ring in the New Year.

Insidious 4 actually takes place after Insidious 3 and before Insidious, so it serves as a prequel and a sequel. After a trilogy of films, with hints into the life of psychic warrior Elise Rainier, we are finally given her entire backstory. The movie delves into the family history of Rainier and the morbid past of her childhood home. Elise must face the literal demons of her past and fight against a terrifying demon with sinister motives.

Listen, on paper, the movie shouldn't work. It's a risky move to throw it into such a weird chronological residence, but Whannell knows his universe and it fits snugly in place between the third and first films. Not only that but sometimes exposing too much about a character can be ultimately damaging to the role and in severe cases to the entire franchise. Instead, Whannell has penned a script that is carefully handled by Adam Robitel and the story ends up packing an emotional punch instead of coming of as forced or too saccharine. It actually heads into some really dark places, touching on themes like domestic abuse, and for the first time the Insidious franchise explores some threats that aren't purely demonic or metaphysical.

It's overall a refreshing entry. Robitel comes out swinging, immediately showcasing the kind of scares and tension that we're in for, as well as highlighting the emotional dive that we will be taking with our lead. After his found footage flick The Taking of Deborah Logan, Robitel proved that he knew how to keep things fresh in an existing genre, and it carries over here. A handful of the frights and creepy tracking shots are par for the course, but it's the twists and turns that Robitel hits the crowd with that will keep you on the edge of your seat. He shows that he knows how to shake up expectations on the traditional jump scare and it's exciting to see him behind the camera.

Whannell has crafted a script that is perfect parts heart, horror, and laughs. We take a trip into the Further, sure, but we also take a trip down memory lane and it's not pretty. Whannell smartly weaves some levity into the drama, bringing back ghosthunters Tucker and Specs, played by the returning Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell himself. They are the perfect equalizer for a movie that is much darker in tone than it's predecessors but don't complete dilute the tone of the film with too much humor. He also captures the same level of horror he has elicited from the previous movies, this time with a new demon that is one of the most grotesque and horrific creatures to crawl it's way out of The Further yet. 

Now, here is the real spotlight of the movie. Lin Shaye is a treasure. No one else could have delivered the performance she did with such emotional venerability while also capturing a hidden level of power and bravery. She is everything that a lead needs to be: she's charming, admirable and you can't help but root for her. For decades the genre has been full of iconic and powerful men: Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Boris Karloff. Shaye is absolutely a name that needs to be echoed alongside these other film legends, a woman who should be widely revered for her contribution to the genre as a whole, and an inspiration for women in film. 

Insidious 4 is fun, smart and frightening. It's an engaging movie that has a handful of creative scares and although it trips a bit at the finishing line, the amount of heart on display for the characters and the fans makes it a thoroughly entertaining watch. Seven years into a series, Insidious 4 proves that with the right team, you can still create fresh and exciting movies that will even make you scream a time or two.