Spooked Lin Shaye, the unlikely anchor of the ‘Insidious’ franchise, has a touch of the castigating schoolmarm about her. (One of her first roles, a bit part, was a high school teacher in ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’.) She’s never fully persuasive during the inevitable run-around climaxes that mar these films’ suspenseful build-ups, but you can always count on her to issue a stern dressing-down to an evil spirit in her weirdly reassuring Midwestern accent.
‘Insidious: The Last Key’ (don’t count on this fourth instalment being the last of anything) has Shaye reprise her role as a starchy ghost whisperer and medium of the Further. As in the last movie, 2015’s ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’, Shaye’s Elise is called upon to hunt demons and be a kind of den mother to a pair of bickering boy-men, Specs (screenwriter Leigh Whannell, admirably self-deprecating) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), fans of the supernatural who have parlayed their appreciation for pseudoscience into internet fame.
The movie works best during its extensive flashback sequences that explore Elise’s troubled teenhood, a time when she grappled with budding sensitivities and an abusive dad. When she runs away from home (young Hana Hayes is terrific in these scenes), you get a whiff of the film that might have been, one closer in spirit to domestic tragedy. However, there are creepy monsters with keys for fingers to bring into the plot. Hardcore fans get the loud noises they came for, but true fear vaporises.