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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Insidious: The Last Key

“Father Figures” is also new to Blu-Ray this week.

It’s a nice treat when studios decide to trust the director they hire to direct a horror movie. Most of the time, they don’t. That’s why so many horror movies have annoying soundtracks that employ cheap jump scare tactics. Frankly, I get it. I’ve seen my fair share of bad horror movies that needed to be punched up a bit. I still argue against the jump scare tactic, in which something suddenly happens and an ear-bustingly loud noise plays on the soundtrack, but I understand the concern. The trick for studios is to be savvy enough about horror movies so they can differentiate between when there is a need to use low brow fright tactics and when there isn’t.

This puts “Insidious: The Last Key” in an odd position. It sits between two worlds, much like the dark and limitless “The Further” for which these movies are known (this is the fourth movie in the “Insidious” series). In the beginning of the movie, jump scares abound. The setting is a town called Five Keys, New Mexico, in 1953. It’s there we see where young Elise Rainier (Ava Kolker) grew up. Even at the age of about ten, she was able to see spirits from the other side. The director, Adam Robitel, creates a wonderful close quarters setting, involving a room she shares with her brother Christian (Pierce Pope). The two sleep on a bunk bed, with Christian on top and Elise on the bottom. Her bed is covered by a curtain, creating yet another opportunity for the unseen to be lurking anywhere in the dark. The camera stays tight, moves at the right pace, and the music is low. This is what’s called creating mood an atmosphere, and Robitel does a great job. The chintzy jump scare moment on the soundtrack is totally unnecessary. The moment it is used was plenty shocking and scary enough—it did not need to be cheapened in such a crude way.

This being a Hollywood movie portraying a nuclear family in 1950s America, the father (Josh Stewart) is of course a belligerent drunk. Seriously Hollywood, get some new stock characters. The angry ‘50s dad is a cliché that has been run so far into the ground that it’s now burrowing its way to China. I’m tired of seeing it, and it’s just lazy. But it is what it is in “The Last Key,” so after he gives Elise a good whack, he locks her in the basement. This is where we’re first introduced to a mysterious red door that only young Elise can see, and a demon who wants her help to get into this world. According to the credits, this demon is called Key Face (Javier Botet), though I am not sure why. The keys he needs are on his fingers (literally, each finger is a key). When we finally do see this demon later in the movie, his countenance is horrifying, to be sure—but doesn’t resemble a key. This scene is also unfortunately punctuated with jump scares and an overbearing soundtrack, but the intensity is ratcheted up to the point where it’s not as distracting.

Key Face goes away after getting a key from Elise, but not for good. Flash forward to decades later (after the events of “Insidious 3” but before the events of the first two movies) and adult Elise (Lin Shaye) receives a call for help from a man named Ted Garza (Kirk Acevedo). Elise is reluctant at first, but then hears the man’s address. It’s the same house that she grew up in and ran away from years ago. Feeling that it is her duty to take this on, she hits the road with trusted companions Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) to go back to her childhood home and once for all confront the demon who so dramatically altered her life one night decades ago.

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It’s also at this point where it seems as if the studio got the hint that Robitel knows what he’s doing. The wonderfully dark and claustrophobic atmospheres certainly don’t stop (a scene that takes place in a ventilation shaft being the apex of this), but the annoying soundtrack does. Or maybe it does continue, but by that time I was so engrossed in the story that I didn’t notice. For me, this is the best movie since the first one, with a complex and engaging story that grabbed my attention. There is also a fantastic twist involving some of the spirits that Elise sees. I have to admit, I didn’t see it coming, and the idea behind it is pretty fresh and innovative. While “The Last Key” may have stumbled and faltered a bit here and there in the beginning, by the end I was hooked. Buy it.

Also New This Week

Father Figures

I’ll give credit where it’s due: ”Father Figures” has perfect casting. Ed Helms plays Peter Reynolds, an uptight, dyspeptic proctologist with a hair trigger temper. Owen Wilson plays his brother Kyle, an easy-going Hawaii beach bum who makes millions because his likeness is on a barbecue sauce label. Their mother Helen (Glenn Close) has had quite an active past. Due to said activity, Helen doesn’t know the identity of Peter and Kyle’s (their fraternal twins) father. So, the sons go on a road trip down and up the east coast in search of their father. Prospective papas include J.K. Simmons as an angry nutcase, Jack McGee as an Irish cop, Christopher Walken as a veterinarian, and Terry Bradshaw as himself.

The premise is typical and been done before. Two people with opposite personalities are forced to spend time together. In this case it is two brothers on a road trip to find their father. These off the shelf ideas aren’t inherently bad or lazy, as long as something fresh, or at least funny, is done with them. However, “Father Figures” is neither fresh nor funny. It goes through the motions, hitting all of the expected story beats right on schedule. I could take a mundane plot if the comedy was funny, but it’s not. Having the men they meet constantly talk about the sluttiness of their mom isn’t funny, nor is the race-baiting nonsense in a scene involving a hitchhiker (Katt Williams). When the movie isn’t being cringey, it’s downright pedestrian. There are much better movies out there to spend time watching, but if nothing else strikes your fancy as you flip through online movie selections, you could do worse. Just keep your expectations low. Stream it.

More New Releases: “Sweet Virginia,” about a former rodeo champ who befriends a young man with a propensity for violence, starring Jon Bernthal; “Beast of Burden,” starring Daniel Radcliffe as a Mexican Cartel drug smuggler with a lot on his mind; and “The Six Degrees Collection,” a collection of six Kevin Bacon movies that includes “The Big Picture,” “Flatliners,” “Hollow Man,” “Trapped,” “In the Cut,” and “Where the Truth Lies.”

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.