spirits

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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The Forest

The Aokigahara forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Japan has a dark past. It is known as a place where people go to commit suicide. Sara’s twin sister, Jess, went into that forest and vanished. Everyone is convinced that Jess is dead, but Sara knows that she is still alive and she’s in trouble. Sara decides to venture into the forest to find her sister. What she doesn’t realize is those who die in the forest become restless spirits, and now they want Sara.

Unfortunately, most of what I have to say about this film is negative. Of the things I didn’t like, the thing I liked the least was the dialogue. Throughout the entire film the dialogue felt forced and artificial. This can especially be heard at the beginning of the film. They were clearly trying to set things up for the rest of the film by establishing the relationships between characters and the situation that leads to Sara (Natalie Dormer) traveling to Japan. The problem is that these things were too simply stated and didn’t sound the way people would speak to each other in the real world. I was almost cringing every time people spoke to each other in the film because it felt so false.

The scares may have also been affected by the lack of a clear mythology. Throughout the film they mention the spirits of those who kill themselves in the forest. The idea is when they die their spirits come back angry. They also discuss how the forest makes you see things and tried to make you kill yourself. In theory these are great ideas to make a scary film. What keeps The Forest from succeeding is that the various things that are supposed to scare you don’t connect to the mythology the way they should. It feels more like a bunch of random pieces of classic stories and iconic horror images thrown together. There isn’t a cohesive theme connecting the different elements that are supposed to scare you as part of the same mythology.

Another aspect of this film that did not work was the scares. What would have made this film more terrifying would have been if they relied more on suspense and tension while Sara is looking for Jess in the forest infamous for having dark spirits. Instead the filmmakers chose to utilize jump scares to frighten the audience. Sadly, these jump scares did not achieve the intended response. I am a complete wimp and typically it doesn’t take much to scare me. There were several occasions in this film where I braced myself for a scare that didn’t even make me flinch. The fact that I had no problem walking to my car alone at 5am this morning when it was pitch black is further proof that this film didn’t scare me. The jump scares may not have been scary because they were set up in such a way that you almost knew they were coming. If they were to do this film over again, I would recommend having the spirits less visible and more like shadows lurking behind every tree to build the tension, rather than having them everywhere and looking relatively like normal people.

I absolutely love Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2) who plays both Sara and Jess. In this film, I did not love her. It’s really difficult for me to discern whether it was her acting that I didn’t like or if it was simply the writing and her acting was fine. It seems more likely that it was the writing because there were definitely moments when her performance pushed past the unfortunate dialogue. Taylor Kinney (Chicago Fire) did a fine job, but I felt like his character was out of place and almost an unnecessary addition to the film. This seemed to be a common theme. There were a couple other characters who seemed as if they were irrelevant to the plot and that they didn’t belong in this film.

This was a film that could have been very interesting and scary. The idea of going into the reportedly haunted suicide forest of Japan sounds like the makings of a terrifying story, especially since this place actually exists. The film simply failed to create a complete mythology in their plot based on the real life myths. The result felt like pieces of several different stories chopped up and thrown together in a way that lacked substance and scares. Combine that with the robotic dialogue and it ruins any chance of creating a film that the audience could fall in love with. The one redeeming quality I can say about this film is that the ending was not what I expected, which is always a nice surprise.

OVERALL RATING: 4.5/10