When I saw the trailer for this film on Facebook, I was so excited about it. I’ve watched every single Insidious film there is without fail. The first film had me terrified – I still get a little bit freaked out thinking about that demon with the red face sometimes… And that’s exactly why I watch horror films, because I want to feel scared. Yet with this one, I just felt underwhelmed.
James Wan takes us back into Elise’s past, which is a nice idea because she is such an integral part of every Insidious film there’s been. Just as we expect, Elise’s abilities have been present since she was a young child. She would see ghosts around the house and she would be very vocal about it when she did. Inevitably, this would really scare her younger brother and surprisingly, it made her father extremely angry. An anger that turned volatile when he used to punish her for saying she had seen ghosts by beating her and then locking her in the basement. It was in this basement that she was enticed by a demon to unlock a door.
When the door opened, Elise let out a very evil entity. Hearing her screams, her mother ran down to the basement to find her but ended up being hanged by the demon. Something that added fuel to her father’s fury, who now also blamed her for killing her mother. When Elise reached her teenage years she saw a woman in the laundry room. She told her brother, her father overheard and when he started shouting at her, Elise finally reached breaking point and ran away. But what she didn’t do, is close the door that she unlocked.
The film centres itself around Elise’s journey to close this door. Well partially, as it seems to have a sub-plot running alongside it of men locking women in basements and beating them until they die. Elise’s dad did this, which she later realises when she finds out that the woman she saw in the laundry room all those years ago wasn’t actually dead, but was alive and trying to escape her father’s wrath. And then we see history repeating itself with the new owner of the house. With the help of the spirit of the woman Elise’s father kidnapped all those years back, Elise is able to uncover the secret that there is another young woman being trapped there by the new owner. Thankfully, she manages to save this one.
I just struggle to understand how this actually links to the point of the film? Which is supposed to be that Elise opened the door all those years back and now needs to close it. Throughout the film we get the usual jump scares. There’s a demon that pops up behind the police officer when Elise is being questioned and this is almost identical to the scene in the first film, when the demon appears behind Josh in the dining room and terrifies his mother Lorraine. There are a couple of decent scares, but they definitely weren’t good enough to make me jump or scream. There’s always too much going on beforehand in the music and the camera angles, forcing you to expect that it’s coming soon.
I also wasn’t a fan of the quirky scripting for Elise’s two sidekicks Specs and Tucker. They just weren’t very funny and I don’t really watch a horror film for it’s comedic elements. In fact I expect there to be none. The only film it works for is It, which struck up a healthy balance between being funny and scary at the same time.
What’s worse is the fact that nothing really happens. Elise’s nieces are employed pathetically as pretty screaming girls. Even when one of them goes into the other side to try and save Elise, she doesn’t do very much apart from walk around to find her. When she does find her and consequently the demon finds them both, she is of absolutely no help! Elise has to whistle for her mother, who I assume is resting happily in peace, because she is able to force the demon away from her daughter with a few simple words. Slightly touching, but also slightly random as I thought that it would have to be Elise herself who got rid of the demon considering that she was the one who let it out.
The demon looked terrifying, I will say that. With it’s keys for hands and it’s extremely sinister face and distorted movements. I really did find the way that it locks your voice box with it’s fingers when you scream, quite chilling. However, the way it locks your heart seemed too gentle of a way for a demon to behave. Or did it? I can’t quite decide on this one. In any case, once I’d seen the demon once, it didn’t do anything terrifying or surprising and so the scare factor wore off pretty soon.
Sometimes I think that Insidious compensates for its lack of fear factor with it’s incredibly loud sound effects. We always know when a demon is on it’s way, this is unquestionable. The only question we find ourselves asking is how long we’re going to focus on this one scene before it pops up for a few seconds and disappears. Or before we cut abruptly to another scene. The horror films that have the jump scares nailed are the ones that weave them into normal, everyday tasks. If we’re focused on a dark colour palette in a small enclosed space and a character is alone, we know that a demon is coming. I challenge you to find me one scene in any of the Insidious films that invites demons into a brightly lit kitchen or a backyard during the day. If it did, I would be sufficiently terrified. We all know we’re not as safe in the dark as we are in the light – Insidious just overplays this.
Besides, once you’ve been adequately disconcerted and you actually consider what happened to cause this, you realise that it’s doing nothing different or extraordinary. Take the claps in The Conjuring for example. They strip everything back to complete silence, yet the sound of these claps really is truly terrifying. And we never see the demons for long enough either. They don’t stick around, they just go out of their way to lead you on long paths to the truth so that they can pop up and disappear again. We never hear from them what they actually want and the demons themselves never have a backstory. Are you bored? Are you bitter? Do you think this is fun? What exactly is your problem?
And lastly, we must not forget that this is a prequel. At the end of the film, we circle back to Elise receiving a worried call from Lorraine about her grandson Dalton. So what was the point of this whole film? It’s called the last key, but it wasn’t really the last key because nothing that Elise did even worked!! After this film, Dalton is still being terrorised by a demon and Josh is still facing his childhood fears when his own demon returns.
Don’t get me wrong, I love these films and I always keep coming back for more. But the storylines just aren’t that great and they do not weave well together. You would think this prequel would have filled in any narrative gaps between the different films, yet it has me asking questions I had never even thought of asking before.