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Brennan Went To Film School

Brennan Went to Film School: Unlocking the Hidden Meaning in Insidious: The Last Key

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“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS DETAILED SPOILERS FOR INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

Blumhouse had quite a year last year, didn’t they? In addition to having three number one hits on their hands, the racial satire Get Out is their first horror entry to get awards traction thanks to its deeper themes. Now that everyone is starting to take the company and its work a little more seriously, it’s time to bring out the big guns and dive right into some deeper analysis into a much more unlikely subject: Insidious: The Last Key. The fourth entry in their tentpole haunted house franchise might not seem like it at first glance, but it’s the Get Out of the Me Too era, telling a story of women’s struggles while predicting the downfall of powerful, abusive men that started to occur during its production process with eerie accuracy.

No, seriously. Let’s start by taking a look at the villain. Unusually for this franchise, the baddies are both paranormal and human: halfway through the film it is revealed that the haunting victim who has called Lin Shaye’s Elise and her crew is also a sadistic killer who has chained up a woman in his basement. This is also revealed to be the very same thing Elise’s father did many decades before. The film implies that both men are being influenced by the key-wielding demon that inhabits the house.

Key imagery is very important to the film as a whole (I mean come on, it’s literally in the freakin’ title) and its themes of Elise arriving to her childhood home to unlock the secrets of her past. But there’s more than one meaning to that imagery, and understanding those meanings is the key to unlocking the subtext of the film, if you’ll allow me a really obvious pun.


The demon KeyFace might be influencing the men, but they’re still receptive to the idea. That’s because he’s awakening something that was already inside them. KeyFace represents the pure male id; the unconscious, animalistic desires and drives that lay buried in the psyche. He’s not forcing them to behave in this way, he’s just unlocking their darker impulses.

It’s no coincidence that the demon’s lair is the bomb shelter basement. The house has now become a road map of her father’s mind, with his strongest emotions (and the literal place where he keeps his abused women secreted away) hidden in a sublevel that isn’t visible from the surface. This is the very same basement where he locked up Elise while punishing her for insisting that her visions were real. He wanted her to keep her psychic gifts locked away, probably so she wouldn’t discover his own submerged secrets.

Elise encounters a variety of keys during her journey that allow her to penetrate deeper and deeper into The Further, the house, her past, and the hideous truth about the men in her life. These keys unlock doors, suitcases, chains, and cages, but the most important unlocks the truth… and turns the attention of the evil upon her and her two nieces.

The probing of these women ignites the fury of KeyFace and he takes her niece Melissa into the basement (another buried sublevel that must be unlocked), inserting a key into her neck and rendering her mute, then stealing her soul with a second key plunged into her heart. He is only vanquished when Elise and her other niece Imogen team together and use a family heirloom – a whistle – to summon Elise’s mother’s spirit.

On the surface, this seems like an inspiring story of three generations of women helping each other to face a great evil. This is certainly true, but now we have the key to understanding exactly what’s happening here. When a young woman discovers the abuse being perpetrated in her house, the figure of pure, wicked male desire literally steals her voice, silencing her. In order to restore that voice, another woman who knows the truth must very literally become a whistleblower.

…Did I just blow your mind?

At its heart, Insidious: The Last Key presents a world where women must rely on other women to provide them a voice and their very survival in a world dominated by powerful men and their ugly, dirty secrets. Secrets that they will do anything to keep locked away. There may be slightly more ghosts in Insidious than in real life, but that’s a frighteningly close parallel with the ugliness currently being revealed in Hollywood – as well as the world at large. It probably won’t tear up the Golden Globes next year, but this film is just the next important stepping-stone after Get Out in Blumhouse’s use of the genre to dig deep into the real life horrors plaguing our society.


Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!


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Brennan Went To Film School

Brennan Went to Film School: The Road to The Cloverfield Paradox is Paved with Good Intentions

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“Brennan Went to Film School” is a column that proves that horror has just as much to say about the world as your average Oscar nominee. Probably more, if we’re being honest.

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE OPENING 20 MINUTES OF THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX AND THE GENERAL IMPLICATIONS THAT FOLLOW. READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.

The way Netflix rolled out The Cloverfield Paradox (the third film in the extremely loosely defined Cloverfield franchise), by announcing the project during the Super Bowl and releasing it immediately after the game ended, was a game-changing move in film marketing. But as Beyoncé proved with her surprise album back in 2013, this type of thing is going to become more and more common. What’s truly unusual about Paradox is the way it takes a long-dormant format of horror storytelling and updates it for the modern age.

Here’s the basic premise of the film, with specific plot spoilers removed as carefully possible: a space station that is experimenting with a particle accelerator creates a rift in the space-time continuum, which smashes multiple dimensions together and unleashes literal hell on Earth, mostly in the form of gigantic kaiju monsters like the one seen rampaging through New York City in the original Cloverfield.

However well-meaning the scientists aboard the space station were, their tinkering with the very fabric of space-time had catastrophic consequences, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since… well, since the long run of horror movies concerning the hubris of scientists that came into vogue around the 1950’s.

Storytelling, especially in horror, has had its doubts about this whole science thing as long as fiction has existed, but the idea really came into its own in cinema with the radioactive monsters stomping through B-movies after World War 2. The world had seen what nuclear technology could inflict upon the world and lived in constant fear that a hailstorm of missiles was due any minute (not to say that this doesn’t continue to be a fear, but the movies certainly seem to have moved on). These fears of nuclear testing and the hazards of scientific development leaked into films like the Japanese kaiju masterpiece Godzilla (a movie to which Cloverfield certainly owes a life debt), and decidedly cheesier American films like Them!, Beginning of the End, and Tarantula! (which feature oversized mutant ants, grasshoppers, and – you guessed it – a tarantula, respectively).

As history ticked by and the hysterics about nuclear testing died down a bit, the horror genre found other targets, including the most frightening and fascinating development of the century: the computer. The world at large had next to no idea exactly how much power the computer possessed (which was, frankly, not a whole lot at the time), which led to movies like 1981’s Evilspeak, about a bullied student who finds a Satanically possessed computer, or the ’77 film Demonseed, about an A.I. installed into a home that turns sinister and torments its occupant.

Different fears have been in vogue as technology changed at a rapid rate, including a spate of gene-splicing-gone-wrong films beginning around the early 80’s and continuing well into the 90’s (from Piranha to Deep Blue Sea to Watchers to even Jurassic Park) and the evil-consumer-tech films from Japan from the turn of the millennium (One Missed Call, Ringu, Pulse). What all of these films have in common is a fear that humanity is moving forward too fast, and that some poor scientist who only wants to do good is about to make a false step into something truly dangerous and apocalyptic.

Strangely, this trend has died down in the current decade, replaced by the more spiritual boom of supernatural horror films featuring ghosts and demons. This could be due to the fact that science and progress are more widely accepted throughout culture, and the far scarier thing is the mystical beliefs and phenomena that we have turned our backs on. Or maybe it’s just that everyone is sick of watching the same type of movie over and over again.

But the fact is that, in the past decade or so, we haven’t really seen a big movie made in this tradition, unless you count something like The Human Centipede. But it looks like The Cloverfield Paradox has resurrected the form, tapping a new vein of fear in the culture that wasn’t there before: the planet’s desperate search for sustainable energy sources. Energy has become a hot-button issue in recent years, with folks like Elon Musk leading the charge to reduce the Earth’s reliance on the ever-dwindling, ever-controversial resources like coal and oil.

That’s exactly the problem that the good folks on Cloverfield’s space station intend to solve. Unfortunately, in the rush to save the planet, they may have unleashed a power that will ultimately destroy it. But what they have also unleashed is a brand new leg of an ancient storytelling technique, opening the door to a burst of potential horror films based on the newest, scariest science of the day.

While all the interdimensional mayhem plays out in The Cloverfield Paradox, you might not be focusing on the energy crisis necessarily, but every horrific scene stems from that one, fatal mistake. That’s exactly what these movies have always been about: the fallout from science’s unchecked forward progress and the ways it can reach into our lives and warp them in ways we never could have imagined.

It might be stressful out there in the world right now, but thankfully our horror is always here to provide a catharsis. Whether you love or hate The Cloverfield Paradox, the world is always more interesting when horror is reacting to it, and I’m certainly ready to see what comes next.


Brennan Klein is a writer and podcaster who talks horror movies every chance he gets. And when you’re talking to him about something else, he’s probably thinking about horror movies. On his blog, Popcorn Culture, he is running through reviews of every slasher film of the 1980’s, and on his podcast, Scream 101, he and a non-horror nerd co-host tackle horror reviews with a new sub-genre every month!


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