Film Review: Insidious: The Last Key (dir by Adam Robitel)


Traditionally, good films are not released in January.

With most filmgoers more interested in catching up with the probable Oscar nominees and no one wanting to spend too much money after Christmas, January has become the month when the studios release all of the low-budget films that they’re hoping they can make a few bucks off before everyone forgets about them.  January is the month that sees sequels to the franchises that have a small but loyal fan base.  Just as last January saw the release of a new Underworld and a new Resident Evil, this January sees the release of Insidious: The Last Key.

Though it would subsequently be overshadowed by The Conjuring and its sequel, the Insidious franchise got off to a good start with the first film in the series.  Released in 2010, the first Insidious was a genuinely scary movie, one that can still give your nightmares if you watch it on a stormy night.  There are so many moments from that film that have stuck with me: the dancing ghost, the red demon suddenly appearing over Patrick Wilson’s shoulder, and the franchise’s first trip to the Further.  Of course, the thing that really elevated Insidious was the performance of Lin Shaye, in the role of demonologist Elise Rainier.  Lin Shaye played Elise with a combination of eccentricity and quiet authority and, from the minute she first showed up, you wanted to know more about Elise’s paranormal career.  Elise was the most popular character in the movie, which made it unfortunate that she was dead by the end of it.

Despite Elise’s death, she’s continued to be at the center of the Insidious franchise.  The first sequel dealt with her death by having her appear as a spirit, leading the hero through the Further.  The third film in the franchise was actually a prequel, dealing with one of Elise’s earlier investigations and showing how she first met her two comedy relief assistants, Tucker (Angus Sampson) and Specs (Leigh Whannell).  The Last Key is another prequel, revealing the details of Elise’s childhood and following her all the way through 2010.  The Last Key ends with a call back to the first Insidious movie, suggesting that the franchise has now come full circle.

The Last Key is another haunted house movie.  This time, the house in question is the one where Elise and her brother (played, as an adult, by Bruce Davison) grew up with their horribly abusive (and possibly demon-possessed) father.  In 2010, the house has been purchased by Ted (Kirk Acevedo).  No sooner has Ted bought the place then it becomes obvious that it’s haunted.  However, Ted can’t just abandon the place because he’s sunk all of his money into this house, which he was hoping to be able to then sell to someone else.  Apparently, you can’t get much money for a haunted house.

(Well, whatever.  I’d pay good money to buy a haunted house and then I would open it to the paying public every October.  I would make a fortune, assuming everyone didn’t get killed.)

Anyway, it all pretty much leads to everything you would expect to happen in an Insidious movie.  Doors open and close.  Malevolent beings appear in the shadows.  Everyone goes to the Further.  Lin Shaye gives another entertaining and fully committed performance, obviously enjoying the chance to be the star of the film.  Nothing about the film is particularly surprising but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t often effective.  Watching this film is a lot like listening to a skilled storyteller tell the story about the girl, her boyfriend, and the escaped mental patient who has a hook for a hand.  You know exactly what’s going to happen.  You know that it none of it really happened.  You know the story is borderline ludicrous.  But you still find yourself jumping at every unexpected sound.  You still find yourself staring into the shadows, wondering if you really saw something moving or if it was just your imagination.

Needless to say, The Last Key is never as effective or as scary as the first Insidious or either of The Conjuring films.  There were a few moments — mostly dealing with Elise’s childhood — where The Last Key showed the potential to be something a little deeper than what I was expecting but those moments were rarely followed up on.  In the end The Last Key is a rather modest and workmanlike horror film, the type that makes you jump while you’re watching it but which you will also probably end up forgetting about a day or two after seeing it. However, for a January horror film, it’s good enough.

The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Smiley (dir by Michael Gallagher)


Smiley_Movie_Poster

Oh God, this movie.

Whenever I watch 2012’s Smiley (and, since this is one of those films that always seems to be playing whenever I have insomnia, I actually have seen Smiley more times than I should probably admit), I always find myself hoping that it will actually be a better film than I remember it being.

Some of that, I have to admit, is because I once dated a frat boy whose nickname was Smiley.  His high school football coach gave him that name because he was always smiling!  (Yes, I once dated a football player who smiled a lot and didn’t really care much about literature, art, movies, history, or anything else that I was actually interested in. Don’t ask me to explain how these things happen.)  His pickup truck even had a personalized licence plate that read, “SMILY.”  That’s right — he wasn’t really sure how to spell Smiley.  Whenever I see the title Smiley listed in the guide, I think of him and I have to kind of laugh.

Beyond that, Smiley was an independent, low-budget film and I have to admit that my natural inclination is always to support independent filmmakers.  If Smiley was a huge studio production, I’d have absolutely no qualms about ripping it apart.  But when I see an indie horror film like Smiley, there’s a part of me that almost feels that I have to be supportive.  But the things is, it’s one thing to be supportive and it’s another thing to be delusional.  I may want Smiley to be a good horror film but it’s not and I’m really not doing anyone any good if I pretend otherwise.

Finally, I always want Smiley to be better than it actually is because the film features one of the creepiest killers that I’ve ever seen.  Even if the character is cheapened by a rather stupid twist, Smiley is scary looking.  Smiley is presented as being the spirit of a man who, after stitching his own eyes closed, carved a permanent smile on his face.  As a force of evil, Smiley is genuinely frightening and it’s unfortunate that the rest of the film doesn’t live up to the character’s potential.

As for the rest of the film … well, it’s pretty much your typical slasher.  All of the characters are loathsome, the murders are neither suspenseful nor gory enough to really be memorable, and this is one of those films that relies far too much on scenes of people running into someone, screaming in terror, and then discovering that it was just one of their friends.  It is true that there is a twist towards the end of the film that’s designed to make you question everything that you’ve just see but since the twist doesn’t make much sense and comes out of nowhere, it’s hard to get excited about it.  The best thing the film had going for it was the character of Smiley and the twist pretty much ruins that.

(The film’s other big twist is that the cast is full of YouTube personalities, which makes Smiley the spiritual descendant of The Scorned, a similarly bad slasher film that was full of reality TV stars.)

By the way, the idea behind Smiley is that you can go on Chatroulette and, if you type “I did it for the lulz” three times, Smiley will appear and kill whoever your chatting with.  Just for the record, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.*

——

* Well, to be honest, I got a friend of mine to try it and it didn’t work.  I’ve got better things to do then watch some guy jerking off on Chatroulette.