Psychic

Insidious: The Last Key

insidious

Parapsychologist Elise Rainier is back, and this time her newest case will take her to where it all began. A man calls asking for Elise’s help. It turns out the man lives in her childhood house. Elise is forced to remember her tragic past and the horrifying events that lead up to her returning to her hometown. She must solve this case in order to save her family from the demon that ruined their lives.

I want to start by giving some context to the film as it is technically another prequel to the first two installments. This film takes place after Elise has helped Quinn, and before she helps Dalton. The timeline for the Insidious films is as follows: Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2. That being said, there is a lot of timeline overlap between the films thanks to the Further breaking the rules of time and flashbacks. The best part of this installment is that it finally gives me what I wanted; more of Elise’s backstory. Through a series of flashbacks and dream sequences the audience finally gets to learn about Elise’s childhood and the events that lead her becoming a parapsychologist. It is the strongest aspect of the film, and I wish there was much more of it.

Much of the downside to this film is when we get to the present. The first half of the film deals with more of Elise’s past, but when we see the investigation at her childhood house things begin to spiral downward. The main issue is that the filmmakers attempt to cram too many subplots into one story. There is Elise’s origin, the investigation at her old house, and what happens when she once again enters the Further. While any two of these would work well together, having all three storylines together in a single film is a bit much. As a result, while Elise’s backstory feels more complete, the other two subplots are underdeveloped. It gives the impression that the resolutions come too quickly and too easily. Especially when looking at what happens in the Further, there is virtually no explanation for much of what is shown. What’s even worse is that we never get a true sense of what the ultimate villain is trying to achieve or why. Many of his actions have no purpose, or at least not one that is apparent to audiences. If you look back at the early trailers and some of the promotional stills from the film there are several scenes that were not in the final cut of the film. It makes me wonder what this film could have been and if there was more explanation before the studio got their hands on it.

Along with Elise’s backstory being a strong point for The Last Key, Elise herself is likely the strongest aspect of the entire Insidious franchise. Lin Shaye (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) has been the one constant as Elise throughout the films. She always delivers a strong performance, and the fact that a horror film franchise focuses on a strong elderly woman is absolutely fantastic. Shaye makes the most of this film, despite some of the clunky dialogue, and makes audiences fall in love with her all over again. No matter what, Shaye shines through and commands the screen. As always, Elise has her trusty sidekicks by her side in this installment. There is Leigh Whannell (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Specs and Angus Sampson (Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2) as Tucker. They bring some heart and comedic relief to the thrills and chills of the film.

The Insidious films are known for having iconic and stylistic demons. The Last Key is no different. The villain, known only as KeyFace, has some disturbing creature design created with prosthetics, which are worn by none other than Javier Botet (Mama, REC). Unfortunately the amazing character design gets lost in the lack of character development. It is unfortunate that Botet’s talent is somewhat wasted in this fantastic design simply because the character is weakly written. Despite that, he is still frightening and he is the focal point for several scares throughout the film. Much like in Chapter 3, The Last Key relies heavily on jump scares and lacks some of the more subtle scares of the first two films. This film succeeds the most in building the anticipation for the jump scares. The filmmakers make you wait and wait, knowing that jump scare is coming, before the scare is finally delivered. Unfortunately, in many cases, the anticipation is more thrilling than the actual scare, but there are still plenty of frightening moments.

Insidious: The Last Key fulfills my wish of learning more about Elise, but it is still probably the weakest installment of the franchise. There are simply too many subplots, not enough development of those subplots and characters, and there are several weak points in the dialogue. Despite that, there are still some positives of the film. Elise has a fascinating backstory that audiences finally get to learn, and Shaye does a fantastic job reprising the role of Elise. While we don’t get enough information about him, the design for KeyFace is still quite iconic and disturbing. I only wish there had been more focus on him as a villain and his motivation. The Last Key completes the story of Elise in the Insidious franchise. It is an important piece of the puzzle worth watching, but I can only hope there is a director’s cut in the future that will give fans something more polished.

OVERALL RATING: 5.5/10

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Insidious: Chapter 3

Three years before the Lambert haunting, Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) was ready to quit being a psychic. Then a teenage girl comes to her for help communicating with the girl’s dead mother. The girl does not heed Elise’s advice and tries to contact her mother on her own, leading to dire consequences. An evil spirit heard her calls and has latched on to her. Elise soon realizes she cannot stop doing what she was made to do. It is up to her to stop the entity from slowly killing the girl and imprisoning her soul.

The first thing I will say about this film was that it was down-right scary. There were multiple times that it made me jump, even when I knew something was about to come out and scare me. That being say, it seemed like the film relied very heavily on the scares to carry the story along. Throughout the film they constantly used scare tactics to make audiences jump out of their seats, which worked very well, but they relied so heavily on the scares that the story was a bit lacking. It was almost like every five minutes something was popping out to say “boo.”

The best part about this film, and the entire Insidious franchise, is Lin Shaye. She is an amazing actress, and her character in these films is so easy to love. It seems like this film was almost meant to be an origin story for Shaye’s character, Elise, but it was muddled a bit by the story of the poor teenage victim, Quinn (Stefanie Scott). I really feel the film would have been so much better if they had made it solely about Elise, and only involved Quinn’s story when it related Elise helping her. Considering the fact that this is a prequel, it only seems logical that it would focus on Elise. This would also have provided more opportunity to build on the mythology that was built up so well in chapters 1 and 2. There were definitely a couple attempts at adding to the mythology, such as Elise talking about the “woman in black” that wants to kill her and explaining how Elise first met Tucker and Specs, but it didn’t seem sufficient.

The acting in this film was phenomenal. Shaye, of course, was amazing as always. While her character was absolutely infuriating with how stupid she was, Stefanie Scott still did an amazing job as well. She just kept doing the most idiotic things, and she was so oblivious to the danger she was in it drove me crazy. My dislike for her character had more to do with the way she was written than her acting ability. I also loved The Man Who Can’t Breathe (Micheal Reid MacKay). Even though his character says maybe two words in the entire film, he is so good at emoting through what little we can see of his face and through his body that he sends chills down your spine. I may also be a bit biased when it comes to MacKay just because he played the mummy in one of my favorite movies of all time, The Monster Squad.

Visual effects are extremely important in horror films. The Insidious franchise does a great job in that department. The way they portray “The Further” I find especially effective. They keep it almost entirely black with fog drifting throughout, using only a single lantern to focus your attention on wherever the light is. The makeup they created for MacKay’s character was especially interesting. They used very minimal effects, making him look thin and sickly, while also giving him the appearance of having a decaying body with sallow skin and thinning hair.

Insidious: Chapter 3 was very successful in the sense that it delivered the scares and kept your eyes glued to the screen. It also brought back everyone’s favorite character, Elise, and told us a little bit about her life before she dealt with the Lambert haunting. There is definitely room for improvement. The story should have focused more on Elise, and relied more heavily on a quality storyline rather than the scares. Either way, the film was really entertaining and was a generally successful installment in a terrifying horror film franchise.

OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10

The Lazarus Effect

For centuries, people have been fascinated with death. In The Lazarus Effect, a team of scientists doing research at a California university have discovered a serum that can possibly bring someone back from the dead. The team manages to bring a dog back to life using the Lazarus serum, with some interesting side effects. Unfortunately, the grant they had for their research did not include research into bringing people back from the dead. The pharmaceutical company that provided their funding comes in to confiscate all of their research and equipment. The team decides the only thing they can do now is to sneak into the lab and try to replicate the experiment on film, as this would provide the necessary proof of their invention. There is an accident during the experiment, killing Zoe (played by Olivia Wilde). In a state of panic and sadness, the team decides to bring Zoe back with the serum. They succeed, but they got a lot more than they expected by bringing back a human.

There are two aspects of this film that are incredibly well done. One aspect is the slow burn of the film. The story is done in such a way that the odd things that happen start out small and then gradually snowball into something even more dangerous and horrifying. Another very successful aspect is how they limit your vision to make scenes even scarier. They did a great job of using flashing lights and limiting your view to one angle to make the scares even more effective. Throughout the more terrifying scenes the film keeps you tense and gives quite a few good scares.

There is only really one thing about this movie that bugged me. Before all the scary stuff happens, they make quite a big deal about the pharmaceutical company that comes in to take their research. They make such a big deal of it, that you expect the company to play a more important role. After that initial introduction and some talk about the company later on, there is nothing. I thought maybe they would come in towards the end or something but never did. It seems silly to make it seem like the company has such a large role but then never have them make another appearance. Granted, the company needed to be the catalyst for what would become Zoe’s fate, but it still bugs me.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Now, the idea of bringing a person back to life is not the most original as far as a horror movie goes. What is interesting about this one is that it, at least in my opinion, leaves it up to you to figure out why Zoe came back differently. One thing we know for sure is that when she died she spent what was an hour to us, but years to Zoe, reliving her absolute worst memory. It is assumed that this is what Hell is. There seem to be three different possibilities that explain what happened. You may disagree or come up with a different theory, but this is what I think. My first theory: the years Zoe spent being tortured by reliving her worst memory made her go insane and turn evil. The combination of being an insane evil person, as well as having the Lazarus serum altering her brain, made her the perfect killing machine. My second theory: when Zoe was brought back, something from Hell “piggybacked” with her to our world. The main reason this seems plausible is that she seems to have two distinct personalities that she switches between. Also, in the scene where the mirror she is looking into breaks there appears to be Zoe’s own reflection and a reflection of a more evil version of her. My third theory: the Lazarus serum itself made her evil. It is an entirely new and untested drug that very well could effect the brain in such a way that it turns you into a psychopath with many paranormal abilities. In all honesty, I can’t decide which theory makes the most sense.

Another thing that didn’t make sense to me has to do with the end of the movie. At one point the dog that was brought back to life, and seemed to have been experiencing the same things as Zoe, Zoe kills the dog (or at least you assume so, it is never actually shown). After Zoe has gone through and murdered all of her friends it seems that that is the end. Surprisingly, the last thing you see is the dead bodies lined up and Zoe starting to bring them back with the Lazarus serum. It seems likely that Zoe is trying to create more evil beings like herself. My one problem is this; why did she kill the dog, who was like her, if she intends to bring back all the people she just killed to be like her? It really annoyed me, and I wish someone would explain this to me. Granted, evil Zoe and the dog did not seem to get along, but I’m still annoyed.

[END OF SPOILERS]

While the storyline is not the most original, this film still gives a few good scares. At one scene I almost jumped out of my seat. The cast is amazing and the acting is fairly well done. Olivia Wilde does an especially good job of easily switching between her human personality and her evil one. This is the kind of movie that you have to go in just expecting it to be a fun horror flick that will make you jump at least a couple times. There are definitely flaws, but the only things that truly makes me not like this movie as much as I would have is the part of the story that involves the pharmaceutical company and the unanswered questions I have about certain points of the plot. I would still recommend going to see the movie. Everything is always scarier on the big screen.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10