I’ve seen all The Conjuring movies and all the Insidious movies, I think. I’m not even sure anymore, because they all run together. Counting spin-offs, there are eight movies between the two franchises, and I bet if I gave a pop quiz to everyone who has actually seen all eight movies, few people could match the plots or the actors to the movies. Quick: Which franchise was produced by Jason Blum? Both of them. Which franchise had movies directed by James Wan? Or written by Leigh Whannell? Or written by James Wan and directed by Leigh Whannell? Both of them, again. Which franchise was launched by Patrick Wilson. The answer is: Both of them. In fact, at the end of Insidious: The Last Key — written by Leigh Whannell, who directed the third entry, but has written all four of them, including the first one, which was directed by James Wan, who directed the first two Conjuring movies (plus the Saw movie, written by … Leigh Whannell) — Elise Rainier calls up a character played by Patrick Wilson and, for a split second, I thought she had merged the two franchises together until I remembered that Wilson was the lead who launched both franchises (one with Rose Byrne and the other with Vera Farmiga).
The point is: There are eight of these horror movies that are virtually indistinguishable save for one element: Lin (fucking) Shaye (never mind that she is in the Ouija movies, also produced by … Jason Blum). In other words, if you want to know which franchise you’re in, check to see if Lin Shaye is involved. If she is (and it doesn’t involve a Ouija board), you’re watching an Insidious movie.
Also, Lin Shaye is fantastic. The movies themselves are all fairly interchangeable and formulaic, and I’ve pretty much already forgotten it, except for Lin Shaye. I mean, it’s pretty incredible when Lin Shaye is the only thing memorable about these Insidious movies no matter how many young interchangeable victims they cast (in this case, Spencer Locke and Caitlin Gerard, who are passable.).
What’s Insidious 4 about? I could tell you, but you’ll forget before you finish the next paragraph. It’s an origins story for Lin Shaye’s Elise Rainier — she goes back to the house she grew up in to confront the demons that continue to haunt it, and in the process, embroils her brother and his daughters into the proceedings. There’s a lot of jump scares, some spooky ghosts, and some other malevolent forces. A few people die; some people come close to dying; and other people don’t die.
Is it good? Oh, I don’t know. It’s OK, like the other seven, although the ones directed by James Wan do tend to stick out, because they’re like horror-movie roller coasters. This one is not directed by James Wan; it’s directed by Adam Robitel, who doesn’t bring much to the proceedings. The directing is fairly generic, like the movie, but it gets the job done, I suppose. You’ll flinch a couple of times; you’ll jump out of your seat once or twice; and you’ll check your watch a few times. It’s fine; it’s something to do while you’re eating popcorn.
But when it’s over, you’ll only remember one thing: Lin Shaye, the brilliant 74-year-old journey woman who carries these movies, a woman who doesn’t have her own Box Office Mojo page for some reason, even though at this point she’s a bigger draw than Matt Damon (The Last Key made as much money in its opening weekend than the opening weekends for the last three Matt Damon movies combined). Lin Shaye — the lady who made out with a dog in There’s Something About Mary — is a goddamn national treasure, and you should never forget it.