What makes a good horror film? Elongated pauses when you’re not really sure if the noisy breathing you hear is that of the ghost hunter or the evil spirit lurking nearby? Or sudden bursts of noise which scare the living daylights out of you? For good measure, let us throw in a cobwebbed attic where the victim can get conveniently locked in. These would have made the cut by any normal metric. However, the makers of Insidious: The Last Key decided to take it several notches further. Partway through the movie, psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) crawls into a tunnel for no apparent reason other than to take you to new heights of claustrophobia and terror.
The film opens with one of the most chilling scenes I’ve seen in recent years. A young Elise, who is possessed by a demon and under its influence, murders her own mother. One would be left wondering about the amount of money she must have spent on psychotherapy to emerge as the relatively well-adjusted ghost hunter she grows up into as an adult. Then, she’s taken back to the scene of her childhood crime when a caller informs of paranormal activity in the house, which has been left abandoned for several years. She decides to go back with her two sidekicks, played by Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell, and investigate the case, perhaps so that she can finally get closure.
The house is still haunted by various spirits, who mingle and co-mingle with such efficiency that you often find it hard to keep track of your ghost. You are also told that some of the spirits are good—with intentions to help Elise, while some are—you guessed it—murderous. It is difficult to tell the two apart as the makeup artist probably decided to save on cosmetics and doused them all in the same white powder and torn, bloody gowns. Even when they take her hand and whisper in a raspy undertone that they want to help her, you’re not sure if they’re pulling a fast one on her. Funnily enough, some of them aren’t even ghosts. A woman, for example, was locked in the attic by the new owner and discovered by Elise after six months. With her tangled hair and eerie pallor, she could easily pass for a ghost. Seeing this loophole, the script writers cannily make Sampson say: “Hey, that’s no ghost.” It might have been simpler to go easy on the white powder.
The film is designed almost like a jigsaw puzzle. In the last scene, all the pieces—the red door, the demon with the key, the abusive father, the imprisoned spirits—are supposed to fit together; but, unfortunately, they don’t. The answers just float about in the ether, making a weird kind of sense. If you were to pick holes, the story would collapse. But if you didn’t and just took Elise and her team at their word, it would stay afloat in your mind. In that case, good luck with the nightmares.
Insidious: The Last Key
Director: Adam Robitel
Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson