Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) & Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Leigh Whannell [Chapter 3]
Adam Robitel [The Last Key]

Lin Shaye - Elise Rainier
Angus Sampson - Tucker
Leigh Whannell - Specs
Dermot Mulroney - Sean Brenner [Chapter 3]
Stefanie Scott - Quinn Brenner [Chapter 3]
Hayley Kiyoko - Maggie [Chapter 3]
Tate Berney - Alex Brenner [Chapter 3]
Michael Reid MacKay - “The Man Who Can’t Breathe” [Chapter 3]
Josh Stewart - Gerald Rainier [The Last Key]
Spencer Locke - Melissa Rainier [The Last Key]
Caitlin Gerald - Imogen Rainier [The Last Key]
Kirk Acevedo - Ted Garza [The Last Key]
Bruce Davison - Christian Rainier [The Last Key]

Genre - Horror/Supernatural/Possession/Demons

Running Time - 97 Minutes [Chapter 3]/ 103 Minutes [The Last Key]

PLOT (from IMDB):
INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 - After trying to connect with her dead mother, teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott), asks psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) to help her, she refuses due to negotiate events in her childhood. Quinn starts noticing paranormal events happen in her house. After a vicious attack from a demon, Quinn’s father (Delmot Mulroney) goes back and begs Elise to use her abilities to contact the other side in hope to stop these attacks by this furious demon for a body.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet - in her own family home.

James Wan has probably become the most prolific modern horror director and producer of the last fifteen years. While he has started to slowly move away from the genre to tackle more action-oriented fare [FURIOUS 7 and soon, AQUAMAN], you can’t deny that the man [along with co-writer Leigh Whannell] has crafted three of the more popular and extremely profitable horror franchises in the modern era. 2004’s SAW led to a massively popular and money-making franchise that just made a comeback a few months ago. 2013’s THE CONJURING has also made a ton of money, especially if you include the ANNABELLE spin-offs. And 2011’s INSIDIOUS series has proven that fans still care about horror films with substance, good acting, and scares that are earned without relying on loud noises to make people jump.

In fact, INSIDIOUS proved that ghost stories and films about demon possessions can still send a chill up and down your spine if done right. The first film, in my opinion, is still one of the better horror films of the 2010’s - just a stylish movie of subtle creepiness with great actors, beautiful shots, and a script that delves deep into the characters tormented by the evil spirits that make up this franchise. INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 was less so, but it has a great performance by Patrick Wilson and a great villain that kept you invested from beginning to end. 

The surprising thing about the INSIDIOUS series is who really became the focus of the franchise. Instead of the main characters, the supporting ones have managed to keep the franchise afloat for 7 years now. Who knew Lin Shaye’s Elise would be the heart and soul of the series, taking what should have been a vehicle for the Lambert family and making INSIDIOUS about her and her sidekicks, Tucker and Specs. For better or worse, the shift of focus to the ghost hunters has given INSIDIOUS a pulse that keeps audiences flocking to watch these films. It’s even crazier when Elise was murdered in the first film, yet she’s the one giving the series life.

Realizing that Lin Shaye was the glue that held INSIDIOUS together, Leigh Whannell decided to focus on stories that took place before the first INSIDIOUS film that give us insight on Elise’s journey to help the Lambert family and how she hooks up with Tucker and Specs. That’s the reason why INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 exists. The first prequel in the franchise, James Wan hands the director’s seat to Whannell, who makes the series more about Elise while still giving us The Further and characters who are traumatized by some dangerous demonic spirits out to hurt them. In a way, CHAPTER 3 is a less convoluted retelling of the first film, just with different characters dealing with a different demonic force. The Brenner family is less captivating than the Lamberts, but their story is also very relatable. Teenage Quinn has lost her mom and feels pressure from her dad to pretty much pick up the pieces, which conflict with her passion to become an actress. She believes the spirit in her house is her mother, but learns quickly that it’s something more sinister. She seeks help from Elise, who is dealing with her own grief and refuses to help until she realizes how much trouble Quinn is really in. The parallel stories of trauma and grief between Quinn and Elise is a clever plot device, as both parties deal with it differently - but it effects them in a similar way. However, Elise’s motivation to move on from it gives her the strength to face her fears and help Quinn against her adversary in order for her to move on. Elise is an interesting character to begin with, but Quinn [which could have been a one-dimensional protagonist] is given a lot of depth due to her passions, her struggles, and her willingness to fight. Her strained relationship with her father is compelling and makes us sympathize with both sides, leaving us to care about what happens to them by the film’s end. And Elise’s struggle with losing her husband to suicide and dealing with nightmarish spirits since gives us more insight on her life and makes her more heroic when she sucks it up and decides to confront the demons to help other people defeat theirs. I liked the balance of the two arcs and I felt they came together decently well by the end.

CHAPTER 3 does have its issues. The second half of the film does come across a bit silly at times. Elise recites some lines that Shaye attempts to make work to the best of her ability, but they’re more laughable than empowering. And The Further stuff wasn’t really all that interesting nor scary. In fact, I had issues with The Further in previous films, but at least the demons were memorable and there was something ominous about this dark world. CHAPTER 3 doesn’t really allow for that, as it feels more empty compared to the previous films [not sure if that was a budget issue]. And the breathing demon didn’t do anything for me. Sure, the sound is a bit creepy, but I wish we knew more about him. Compared to the previous villains, this breathing guy felt like a last resort to give the movie an antagonist. Plus, I really want to like Specs and Tucker more than I do. I still feel that a lot of their comedy falls flat, even though it was nice to see them before the whole “suit and tie” deal and how their relationship with Elise came to be.

Also, what happened to Quinn’s love interest and her best friend? They seem pretty important in the first half, yet totally disappear once the second half starts. And they never return! At least Quinn’s little brother brought in Specs and Tucker to help Quinn out, which is more I can say for the little brother in the first two INSIDIOUS films.

I will say that despite a change in directors, CHAPTER 3 still fits in well with the rest of the series. Leigh Whannell takes over for James Wan, and despite the lack of Wan’s style, Whannell handles himself well behind the camera. The best move on Whannell’s part is restraining the jump scares. Instead of constantly using loud sounds and noises [which Wan likes to do], Whannell leads into the scares, making them more effective and well earned. In fact, I thought a lot of the scares here worked really well. Jump scares aren’t terrible, like many believe. It’s just that they’re overdone a lot without a reason. CHAPTER 3 has a reason for them, which is why they’re welcomed. I also felt that Whannell used some great moments of visual misdirection to give the audience false security prior to a nice surprise. Still, CHAPTER 3 doesn’t look quite as rich as the first two films, nor does it manage a flow that the first two carried well. But for a man who’s not really known to direct films, he does Wan-lite very well.

The acting in CHAPTER 3 elevates the material. Don’t know much about Stefanie Scott, but she’s really great as Quinn. She took a token one-dimensional lead horror character and give her a ton of depth and sympathy. I believed Scott throughout the film, from her frustration with her family life, to her grief over her mom, and to her fear of realizing she was the target of a demonic entity. I thought she did a really nice job. Dermot Mulroney is more plus than minus. He handled the stress of being a single dad to teenagers well, but there were times where his acting got a bit hammy for the material. But Mulroney mostly knocks it out of the park, giving his character more depth than expected as well. I thought his father-daughter chemistry with Scott was convincing and welcomed. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson do their thing as Specs and Tucker. I blame the material more than their acting abilities, but you really can’t have an INSIDIOUS film without them. I felt they were a bit more subtle this time around and weren’t really given much to do, which created a mixed bag of sorts. But smaller doses with these guys are probably for the best.

However, the film belongs to Lin Shaye, who really grounds CHAPTER 3 with a multi-dimensional performance of a woman who’s ready to give up on her life after the death of her husband, only to find purpose when someone [who has yet to really live her life] needs her help. She handles every emotion needed well. Her anger is believable. Her sorrow is heartbreaking. She’s convincing as a total bad ass at the end. Shaye knows her character and is a lot of fun to watch as Elise. It’s nice to see this character actress of a specific age leading a horror franchise in the modern era.

Speaking of Shaye, she’s also the best part about 2018’s INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY - the second prequel in the franchise. Since the story is mainly focused on Elise, Shaye gets to play with a facet of emotions and situations that flesh out her character and give us a reason to love her more. Unlike CHAPTER 3, Shaye is so good that she even makes the sillier moments feel important in THE LAST KEY. She has great facial expressions, body language, and portrays Elise as a total hero who is both vulnerable and strong. She brings a grounded, motherly vibe to this film. Without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would be a total disaster in my opinion.

Thankfully, Shaye is in the film, making THE LAST KEY at least watchable for those fans of the series. It’s a shame that the story falls apart whenever things take place in “modern times” [story takes place in 2010]. Besides her, everything else just feels like a shadow of what has already been established in these films. Someone gets possessed, but it’s a character we don’t really know or care about. Specs and Tucker are here to be the comic relief, but 85 percent of their material isn’t really funny and feels forced. We get introductions to Elise’s family, but none of them are really given time to develop - especially when one of them also has Elise’s power and it’s just assumed to be a family trait without much explanation. The Further is handled okay, but again just feels cheaper compared to the other films - even CHAPTER 3. And the villain is a cool concept, but feels like a bit player compared to everything else. It’s a shame because I think films about Elise’s adventures could keep the franchise alive for years. But judging by this film, THE LAST KEY is barely trying to keep the door open.

The best stuff have to do with Elise’s childhood flashbacks, which honestly made me wish the whole film was about these moments instead. The opening section of the film is pretty disturbing stuff and some of the darkest moments in the franchise to date. Since I don’t want to spoil things, I’ll keep it short: Elise lives with her parents and younger brother on the ground floor of a penitentiary where inmates are electrocuted only one story above. Suffice to say, Elise sees a lot of tortured souls and strange things happen in the household. The mother believes in her gift, her prison guard father abuses her because of it, and her younger brother is so scared by her that he wants nothing to do with her. Every scene involving the past are captivating and present some nice moments of terror, mystery, and a neat twist I didn’t see coming. Yes, a film based on the past would have probably lost Lin Shaye for the most part, but the flashbacks really deserved their own film. It probably would have worked better than the actual THE LAST KEY. The modern horror moments seem so silly after the more realistic horror stuff from the past that the film loses steam any time we’re back to present day.

The direction by Adam Robitel [who achieved acclaim for THE TAKING OF DEBORAH LOGAN] is serviceable in terms of capturing the tone and look of the INSIDIOUS franchise. Again, Wan brought style to the franchise which Robitel can’t match. But the flashback scenes are shot really well, and the scenes in The Further looks pretty nice, even if they aren’t really all that interesting. The jump scares don’t really work this time around however, as most of them just feel forced and expected. But I appreciated the flow of the film and the splicing of footage from the first INSIDIOUS at times. 

Besides Lin Shaye, the rest of the acting in the film is pretty okay. Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson return as Specs and Tucker. Their acting is fine, even though the material is pretty rough for both of them. The characters were kind of distracting for their own good at times, but the actors made it work at best as they could. Bruce Davison came for a paycheck, since his role is pretty much a glorified cameo. His scenes with Shaye didn’t really connect with me, and it wasn’t because of her. Josh Stewart is very good as Elise’s father, portraying a cold, brooding, vicious presence that I appreciated. He was scarier than the actual spirits in this film. Spencer Locke is cute, but doesn’t really get to do much. Caitlin Gerald did well enough in her role as Imogen, bringing out the better elements of Whannell’s and Sampson’s acting. And I like seeing Kirk Acevedo in anything, and he was okay here. The weakest acting in the franchise, but it was decent enough nonetheless.

If you’re not a fan of the INSIDIOUS films, CHAPTER 3 nor THE LAST KEY will change your mind. But if you do enjoy these movies, CHAPTER 3 is the better of the two. It’s a pretty good prequel with some strong performances, good plot elements, and good direction by writer Leigh Whannell. Unfortunately, THE LAST KEY didn’t do a whole lot for me. More of the same, but not as creepy, interesting, or captivating. The flashback scenes are really great though and the direction by Adam Robitel is competent. And without Lin Shaye, THE LAST KEY would barely be able to turn the lock. I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of these films soon, but THE LAST KEY shows that the well may be running dry with this franchise.


2.5 Howls Outta 4

2 Howls Outta 4


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