So repetitive has the ‘Insidious’ haunted houses series become, that a decent actress like Lin Shaye, now in her seventies, is referred to as ‘the scream queen’. She plays the parapsychologist, Elise Rainier, protagonist of the franchise, and though she rarely screams herself, she triggers a lot of hollering in the audience.
Armed with two flunkeys who accompany her on her mission to rid homes of spirits, Elise is psychic and can sniff out ghosts. Officially, the gentlemen who do her camera and sound work to record the presence of recalcitrant spirits are known as her support team. One is called Specs (Leigh Whannell) and the other Tucker (Angus Sampson), and, as might be expected, one is bespectacled and the other tucks in. Whenever Tucker formally introduces the team he says: “She is psychic, and we are the sidekicks”, which gets a few nervous laughs.
The premise of this fourth edition is interesting. It is autobiographical in nature and takes us on a tour of Elise’s own childhood in New Mexico, tracing the path by which she first realised her ‘gift’ as a teenager. Traumatised by the demons that inhabited her own home, she grew up as an abused child, and watched her own father turn into a monster of a man who, instigated by the poltergeist, locked up young girls in the cellar.
Now, decades later, the same spirit has re-emerged from the nether world to haunt another young family in that same house, and Elise is called in to investigate. With very few variations, the movie pulls out gimmicks from the same old bag of visuals and sounds, and this time around they don’t work. The problem is the absence of any psychological realism in the real world shown. At no point in the movie does Elise seem to be emotionally distressed by a past that was so horrific that it changed the course of her life. She does have a line that says: “I don’t have memories, I have scars”, but the depiction of those wounds are not developed at all in the script, and this results in a marked lack of poignancy to the narrative.
This is probably the worst written and directed instalment in the series, and functions as a strong argument for having statutory limitations on how many episodes a given franchise should be sustained for. Just like metal fatigue affects the functioning of machinery beyond a certain point, so with narratives, and so with actors who play the same roles over and over again.