[Screen It]


(2018) (Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell) (PG-13)

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Horror: A demonologist must contend with supernatural and familial demons from her past as she returns to her childhood home for the first time in decades.
Elise Rainer (LIN SHAYE) is a woman with a gift (or curse) of being able to encounter ghost, demons and such. And that started when she was a young girl growing up in Five Keys, New Mexico with her younger brother, supportive mother, Audrey (TESSA FERRER), and abusive prison guard father, Gerald (JOSH STEWART), who tried to beat that ability out of her. It didn't work and, at the age of sixteen, she ran away for good, although she's used her gift ever since to help those bothered and burdened by paranormal entities.

Even so, she's taken aback when she receives a call from Ted Garza (KIRK ACEVEDO) who's moved into her childhood home and is being spooked by something inside. Knowing that she unleashed a demon there long ago that took the life of her mother, Elise initially plans to go there alone. But her intrepid duo of paranormal investigators, Specs (LEIGH WHANNELL) and Tucker (ANGUS SAMPSON), decide to tag along. Once back inside her former house, they encounter spooky things, and later Elise's now grown-up younger brother, Christian (BRUCE DAVISON), and his two young adult daughters, Imogen (CAITLIN GERARD) and Melissa (SPENCER LOCKE), in town.

Setting out to vanquish the various demons -- supernatural and familial -- from her past, Elise and her companions must contend with some surprising discoveries along the way.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
I've seen enough movies in enough genres -- both professionally for the past two decades and as an aspiring screenwriter before that -- to be fairly confident that I'm a good judge regarding whether any new entry in any genre is successful or not in what it's trying to be and do.

Yes, I'll occasionally get one wrong either way -- whether going negative from being in a bad mood for some reason or under the weather when reviewing something everyone else loves, or going positive and liking something that most everyone else hates. For the most part, however, I've seen enough films to know if a new comedy is truly funny, a romantic comedy will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside and if a horror film is bone-chillingly scary.

Of course, everyone's entitled to their own opinion and thus I occasionally will let audience reaction influence my assessment to some degree or another. If an entire auditorium is laughing hysterically, that's a pretty good sign. If they're dabbing eyes and blowing noses during a tearjerker, we know it works. And if they freak out during a horror movie, well, that means it's done its job.

With that in mind, I ended up watching a preschooler who was inexplicably brought by her mother to see "Insidious: The Last Key." I won't get into the "what was she thinking" or "some people shouldn't be allowed to breed" commentary about such parenting decisions. But I will say that this little girl didn't seem at all fazed by what transpires in this fourth installment of the "Insidious" horror franchise.

Who knows, maybe she's a seasoned, hardcore fan of such genre flicks and has seen it all during her four or five laps around the center of our solar system and thus needs something really scary to set her off. Whatever the case, she didn't react during the film and walked out as if she just watched some movie featuring minions (of the "Despicable Me" rather than the paranormal variety) rather than ghosts and demons. All of which means her assessment is likely the same as mine -- this horror series has run its course and needs to be put six feet under.

With this film's protagonist, Elise Rainier (a returning Lin Shaye), having died in the original 2010 film, this one follows suit of the third installment -- 2015's "Insidious: Chapter 3" -- by taking place before the events of the first film (so essentially it's a sequel to Ch. 3), and it begins with a fairly long prologue featuring her as a girl growing up in 1950s era New Mexico and already possessing her paranormal gift of being able to interact with otherworldly beings.

Her little brother is terrified of that and her father (Josh Stewart) wants to beat it out of her. Thankfully, her mom (Tessa Ferrer) is supportive, but when dear old dad locks the girl in the basement, she unleashes a demon that kills her mom. Years later, and having enough of the abuse, she runs away from home at the age of sixteen never to return.

But as things will happen in the movies -- or at least Leigh Whannell's script -- a new character (Kirk Acevedo) has moved into her childhood home and with the Ghostbusters apparently too busy elsewhere for a call, he contacts Elise for help. All of which brings up some matters that will likely take viewers out of the proceedings, one immediately and one later on based on a revelation.

The first involves the fact that not only has the interior of the house not been touched in half a century, the new owner also hasn't moved or put away any toy, piece of clothing or other personal effects. The second is more egregious in that once something is revealed about this man, it makes absolutely no sense that he'd call anyone to come snooping around the place. A simple script tweak could have solved this matter -- and actually made things far more interesting and maybe scary -- but it's nowhere to be found.

Instead, Whannell and new to the fold director Adam Robitel trot out the usual "haunted house" horror tropes that might induce a decent jump scare here and there but otherwise don't raise any goosebumps or hairs on the back of your neck. It's all instant shock material that wears off as quickly as it springs out at you and doesn't remotely have the chance of following you home and keeping you up at night, nervously twitching with each and every nocturnal sound coming from elsewhere in your house.

That's the true litmus test of any horror film and this one fails badly, which also holds true for its incredibly lame attempts at comic relief stemming from Elise's far younger helpers (Whannell and Angus Sampson) who've been around since the first flick and completely flounder with the material this time around. That's especially true regarding their creepy advances toward some much younger women -- played by Caitlin Gerard and Spencer Locke -- who's apparently been introduced to move the film series in a new, younger direction.

While there's some potential -- if hardly original -- with some of the material, the vast majority is bungled. Let's just hope the last key used on "Insidious: The Last Key" is one that locks up the franchise for good. That's what I and apparently that preschooler think, meaning this installment rates no better than a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed January 3, 2018 / Posted January 5, 2018

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