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Farewell Reviews! Insidious Chapter 4: The Last Key

I’ll be transitioning out of this site (and the former http://www.dragonhousestudios.org site) to create a new one that I’ll be able to focus on full time as my current social media presence is spread way the crap too thin. In the interim, enjoy this Insidious Chapter 4 review!

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The trailer for the upcoming New Mutants movie may have you convinced that you’ll soon be watching what may be the first super hero horror film, but, you’d be wrong. Beginning as an interesting take on the possession film genre, Insidious slowly transitioned to creating a badass 74 year old super hero in the form of Elise Rainier. If Insidious Chapter 2 cemented Elise as a super hero, Insidious: The Last Key is her origin story. Heads up, this review’s “The Bad” section will contain some spoilers.

With a narrative that begins in 1953 in Five Keys, New Mexico, we open our narrative with a terrifying look at Elise’s first real demon, her violently abusive alcoholic father.

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Good gracious, I cannot possibly give Ava Kolker enough props for her portrayal of young Elise; I don’t think there was a single dry eye in the audience as we traveled alongside Elise reliving her childhood trauma. In the movie’s opening we learn that Elise has dealt with being contacted by the dead and followed by demons even as a child. After being beaten by her father for refusing to lie about her abilities, Elise is locked in the dark in the basement of the family home.

There, Elise in her moment of fear and longing is targeted in a predatory fashion by the the movie’s antagonist demon, Key Face, who tricks her into unleashing it upon the world. One trauma follows another, and we see Elise wake up in bed mortified by her nightmare. A phone call from a potential client reveals her next battle royale will take place in her childhood home, confronting the demon she unleashed so many years ago, as well as the demons of her past…

The Good

A female lead who is allowed to show both strength, as well as moments of weakness.

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Perhaps in an attempt to make good on years of women and girls in media being damsels or objects, much of the modern portrayal of a female lead is one who doesn’t need anyone, is never anything but the strongest and the best, and so on and so forth. Don’t poop your pants with rage; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. There’s a place and necessity for super human female leads who emerge from every battle without a scrape and stand on their own with no help.

However, there’s also a place where that being the only portrayal of what a woman must do to be strong can become a negative as well. Just as much as men and boys of every ethnic line need to see that it is okay to cry or rely on others, women and girls also need protagonists who show them that strength doesn’t mean denying their emotions, their friends, their families, their love interests.

There are many refreshing things to look at with Elise Rainier. She’s an intelligently written strong female lead, she’s a wife, she’s a mentor, she’s a warrior, she’s kicking butt well into her later years, she’s become a mother figure to numerous characters in the franchise, and she’s a female lead who has a traumatic backstory that has nothing to do with sexual abuse (note that I am not against that being part of a character’s backstory; as a survivor myself I am glad when it is done well in a narrative, I just generally only see it as a plot device rather than an intelligent narrative piece).

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Elise is also a female lead who is in touch with her emotions. We see Elise experience joy, courage, humor and other “positive emotions”. We also see Elise cry numerous times in the film. We see her both as a child and as an adult utterly broken more than once. We see Elise wallow in despair, we see her curl up begging for help, we see her relying on her self-made family with Specs and Tucker in a narrative that does not detract from her being a warrior without the common message of “a female warrior needs no men in her life.”

We watch Elise overcome her traumas, battling against them one after another. We also get to see that there was a time when even the powerful spirit warrior needed saving. I appreciate a narrative that shows a more human protagonist, and one that isn’t cowed by popular opinion into not allowing its female lead to show more than her warrior side. If anything, being beaten down by and then overcoming her traumas makes Elise an even stronger protagonist in my opinion.

A story of motherhood, sisterhood, and the power of female friendships

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Though it was one of the shortest relationships in the movie, I enjoyed the camaraderie between Anna and Imogen. Imogen is introduced as one of Elise’s nieces (hey that rhymes!) who is shown to have the same gift. In an era where far too many movies focus on sexualizing every friendship, it was very refreshing to see one where two young women draw strength from one another to overcome traumas and work together to confront the evils in their lives.

Beyond that, while Key Face is portrayed as the movie’s antagonist, the real demon Elise and company have to face is that of the specter of abuse. We see Elise’s mother in the beginning of the movie utterly cowed by her father, paralyzed with fear unable to stop Gerald from beating Elise. This moment comes full circle later in the movie in an incredibly powerful fashion.

Then we’ve got the bond between sisters Imogen and Melissa. The pair get little screen time together, but when the darkness surrounding the Rainier family targets her younger sister, Imogen doesn’t waste a single second to spring into action. What’s more, the events surrounding these sisters gives Elise the chance to make good where her mother couldn’t, stepping in to battle for the girls where she had been left alone.

A narrative that is not beholden to the stereotype that being abused turns you automatically into an abuser.

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As I mentioned earlier, I myself am a survivor of an abusive background. As a result, I tend to get really annoyed with the stereotype that every abused individual emerges to visit the same kind of abuse on someone else. I was incredibly thankful that this narrative shows that both Christian (Elise’s brother) and Elise grew up healthy individuals. Insidious 4 wisely, intelligently and thankfully was not afraid to show that those traumatic events left scars on both siblings, however it goes on to show Elise and Christian battle against those traumas while also making a point of stating that neither one grew up to be an abuser themselves.

A Mixed Bag:

The number of jump scares is too da** high…

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I bet you thought there was nothing there BUT GUESS WHAT LOUD NOISE THERE WAS SOMETHING THERE!

I mean, Insidious as a franchise leans pretty heavy on the jump scare; it’s probably the most used card in the deck, brittle and falling apart with age. I tend to judge jump scare tactics pretty harshly; I’m a paranormal horror movie aficionado, and Asian horror cinema is my bread and butter. As such, I much prefer the scare that is slowly built up over the long pull of the bow. I personally view jump scares as cheap; no matter the individual you’ll almost always get a reaction is you essentially scream loud in someone’s ear and jump out with a mask on. In my case that reaction will get you punched (Cain Karl and Older Sister constantly tease me about how when we watch a ghost movie everyone else yells while I draw up my fists ready to fight), but the point is you’ll get a reaction.

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There are a few pull of the bow moments, like, probably two or three, but the majority of the scares come from LOUD NOISES and good studio makeup. Fortunately, Lin Shaye and Ava Kolker’s emotional performances more than makeup for it, still making Insidious 4 a must see.

Not enough Melissa and Imogen time.

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Now let me be perfectly clear; I rail strongly against all the reviewers that still managed to complain about the female leads in this movie. I read one reviewer in particularly who stated that Imogen and Melissa were nothing more than “eye candy and scream queens”.

Yeah. Hush. Stop looking for things to complain about.

In a movie with nothing but strong female leads, and one that serves as both a powerful origin story for Elise as well as a strong vehicle to mold Imogen into a force to be reckoned with, I’ve gotta say it’s pretty petty to complain that one out of the five amazing female leads got in trouble for a while.

What I mean by my header statement, is that I would’ve liked to see more of the relationship between Imogen and Melissa before the plot kicks the family in the face. What we do learn of the love and bond shared between the sisters is what we glean from around two minutes of screen time. In the scene where Imogen and Melissa are introduced to the narrative in a local diner, we see immediately that Melissa is the bubbly carefree one while Imogen is the stern protective one.

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All we can really get are implications about the sisters. We get the idea that Melissa can be so carefree because Imogen is always watching out for her. We get the idea that Imogen cares deeply about her sister and wants to keep her safe without stifling her. Of course, all of this is inferred from the two and a half scenes we see the sisters together.

Now, I get that this wasn’t their story. This was Elise’s story, and Imogen’s arc was important, but it wasn’t the central focus. My complaint was just that in its attempt to kind of rush to the finish line, some wanted character development got pushed to the way side. That being said, the movie had quite a lot of emotional ground to cover, and attempting to shove in a deeper Imogen and Melissa arc could have made the narrative feel unnecessarily crowded.

Obligatory “The Bible is stupid and Christians are crazy” scene.

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At one point in the narrative, when preparing to begin her investigation and confrontation, Elise is gifted a Bible by Garza, the man who requests her help. Elise is shown a bit uncertain, but thanks Garza for the Bible. As soon as the door is closed and Garza is out of sight, Elise scoffs and tosses the Bible aside. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that Elise considers herself a medium, so, obviously not a lot of love for The Bible. I had honestly forgotten that was a part of her character; it’s pretty unnecessary, which this movie kind of proves itself by having it never come up once in the narrative. She has a weird looking journal, but…I mean…I have lots of journals with dragons on them so…yeah.

Later, a devout Christian in the movie is shown to be a horrible antagonist. This is somewhat averted by a greater revelation of the influence and power of the main antagonist.

Whoopty doo, you made fun of Christianity. That’s not brave. Like, that’s almost literally every piece of popular media. It wasn’t shocking and brave in the new Ring movie to depict a priest committing rape, it’s not brave and edgy to have the “WHERE’S YOUR GOD NOW?!” moment, and it wasn’t edgy and satirical in this new Insidious either. What it was, was an unnecessary jab at Christianity that did nothing to further the plot.

The Bad:

The villain’s actions make less and less sense as the narrative goes on.

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This is somewhat averted because I don’t personally view Key Face as the real antagonist, but still. Let’s talk about Key Face’s plan. Obvious spoilers are obvious.

Key Face needs Elise because he’s locked behind a Red Door that won’t allow him out into the corporeal plane. He also states that he wants Elise to open all of the locks. But, Elise later says that Key Face is the one that opens all of the red doors and has the power to open all of the locks. And…I mean…Key Face opens and shuts lots of locks in this movie. Like some kind of discount horror locksmith.

So anywho Key Face tricks kid Elise into letting him out. Then does literally nothing to or with her for sixteen years. Or sixty years. Aside from her dad being abusive, which he was even without Key Face’s direct interference.

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Despite apparently needing Elise to do what he spends the next sixty years doing himself anyways, Key Face does absolutely nothing to keep Elise from running away from home when she’s sixteen. Then, happenstance calls Elise back home years later. Key Face is shown to be able to roam freely, since he’s implied to be the one who shocks her hand in her bedroom and he has no problem creepin’ around the basement. But, then does absolutely nothing to Elise. Like. At all. Even when she goes to the basement numerous times, which I’ll remind you the basement is his jam.

You could argue that maybe Elise was too strong to attack without breaking again, but, Insidious Chapter 3 and one of the few non-jump scares in Chapter 4 already show that Elise’s senses are waning. So anywho, Key Face I guess just chillaxes while Elise is repeatedly in situations where she’s completely at his mercy if he can get off his demon butt and take her. Then, when he finally jump scares Elise into The Further and takes advantage of the fact that no hero ever has peripheral vision, he begins to break her spirit so he can use her powers to unlock the doors that Elise already said he can unlock anyways.

THEN when Elise pisses him off, he decides “Ya know what? I’ve been waiting sixty years for this but screw it, you yelled at me. TIME TO DIE MADAM MACGUFFIN!”

Then Key Face is killed by his sense of dramatic flair. This is kinda Sonic Forces all over again. Key Face was a genuinely interesting antagonist, but instead his plans and actions just…really don’t hold up to scrutiny.

Again though, I’ll forgive this because really, Key Face truly is the secondary antagonist to the greater picture of Elise’s traumas and past.

How long have we been filming? Quick, end the movie!

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Now here’s the thing about the film’s length and pacing; I personally didn’t have that much of a problem with it. All things considered, I think the movie paced itself well, especially for the depth of the emotional ground that it had to cover. That being said, I do feel what makes the movie feel cramped was both an exciting plot piece as well as one that causes the viewer to feel that we raced to the finish line. Some more spoilers.

A secondary plot point is Elise attempting to reconcile with her brother Christian whom she left behind when she fled her abusive father. The movie never actually shows us that Christian was abused; we just find out from a bit of a throw away line in the second act. This was a missed opportunity, because it is far too rare that we see a narrative depicting boys and men overcoming abusive backgrounds, but again it was Elise’s story, not his. A third plot point is introduced in the form of budding young warrior Imogen. Imogen is shown to have power that eclipses even Elise’s if you really stop and think about what she accomplishes.

Imogen is able to make friends with a spirit trapped in The Further, communicating more normally with her than any other series protagonist up to this point. Imogen also traverses The Further with no training, and for a short while manages to give a demon a bit of a good fight. The problem with all of this is Imogen’s arc forces the movie to feel cramped. The awesome thing about this is those of us who have seen the other movies already know spoilers happens to Elise at some point, but Imogen as well as a certain bit of legal business for Tucker and Specs hint at the possibility of a new young protagonist to take up the torch battling against darkness.

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The plot between Imogen and Melissa was necessary; like I said at the beginning Insidious Chapter 4 is essentially a super hero origin story, not only for Elise but also for Imogen. The unfortunate thing is Imogen’s emergence narrative happens so late in the final act that it leaves a sense that the plot as a whole was rushed, rather than one small part of it.

Final Verdict:

At my most unbiased, Insidious Chapter 4 is a grand

8 out of 10!

Pros:

+ Strong female leads who are allowed to be powerful, yet also show moments of pain, weakness and despair.
+ A narrative that confronts child abuse and doesn’t shy away from showing violence against women and children in a manner that illuminates rather than sensationalizes.
+ Strong platonic friendships
+ A few genuinely haunting moments
+ A narrative that doesn’t just show abused heroes, but also shows its protagonists confronting their pasts.
+ A few genuinely clever bits of cinemotography
+ Badass older female lead
+ A hero who makes mistakes, stumbles, but constantly gets back up and keeps fighting.
+ When you realize who/what the real villain of the story is, it makes it that much better.
+ “Get your hands off my little girl!”, at least half of us in the theater cheered at that moment.

Cons:

– Annoyance, thy name is jump scare
– Imogen’s arc raced by like the Road Runner
– Missed opportunity to show a boy/man overcoming a violently abusive background
– Specs and Tucker’s humor was very hit or miss, even if being jesters at inopportune times is kind of their jam.
– The romance between Specs and Imogen was cute, but definitely not earned. I’m certainly not against the dorky guy getting the cute girl, but, it would’ve been nice if there had been any chemistry between them at all.
– Key Face kinda makes no sense if you stop and think about him…

Some amazing scenes to look out for:

Suitcases, bed time, re-examine the mystery, broken spirits, rebellion.

There are a lot of reviewers throwing shade at Insidious: The Last Key, but I personally cannot recommend it enough. In spite of its flaws, the fourth chapter in the Insidious franchise is an emotional ride that will scare you as much as it will have you reaching for your tissues.

Xeawn, out!

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