Franchise Marathon No. 4: Insidious (2010 - Present)
Updated: Aug 13
After the week of discomfort that watching Hellraiser turned out to be I opted for something faster paced, predictable, and comforting: the Insidious franchise. The first installment, titled simply Insidious came out in 2010 and since then many of the modern horror tropes have been copied from this blueprint. Over the course of the franchise the four films have grossed approximately $539 million dollars (Insidious (film series), 2022) and as a teen during this timeframe I can attest that every time one of these films came out the theater filled not too long after.
Released in April of 2011 the PG-13 rated Insidious (2010) emerged to a great reception. Critics and fans alike loved the movie, a fan Danielle C. writing on Rotten Tomatoes, “Beautifully shot, fantastically acted, brilliant pacing and very intense ending. 10/10! James Wan smashed it yet again!” and a critic, Philip French, claiming it to be, “A supernatural horror flick by and for horror buffs” (Rotten Tomatoes).
Of course no movie is ever completely loved or hated and one critic, Jeffrey Van Camp did say, “It’s part Paranormal Activity, part Ring, and has the ridiculous rules of the Saw series” (Digital Trends, 2011). I tend to find myself leaning towards it being a modern hit. Pamela McClintock called it a, “microbudgeted horror film [that] marks another win for the “Paranormal Activity” team” and said it, “[held] audiences better than almost any other 2011 film” which I agree most with, especially in hindsight to that time (2011).
As the movies kept coming out the reviews became significantly worse with each installment, garnering more and more ire from the audiences. I tend not to agree with this. I didn’t much care for the Lamberts as a main story and just wanted to get more details on the Further, Elise, and the entities that she defeated there. For this reason I like Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015) and Insidious: The Last Key (2018) more than I like the whole of the first two movies. One caveat to that being that Insidious (2010) and Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) have some stellar horror moments in ambiance, tension building, acting, and effects.
Often compared to the Conjuring series, with installments also directed by James Wan, I still think Insidious doesn’t get the credit that it’s due for creating a really cool, interesting, and ever malleable universe for their often interesting characters to exist in. Without further adieu I give you, The Franchise Marathon: Halloween Edition Insidious (2010 - present).
Most to Least Favorite:
First- Insidious: The Last Key (2018)
Second - Insidious (2010)
Third - Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
Fourth - Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
INTRODUCTION TO THE UNIVERSE: INSIDIOUS (2010)
Directed by James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, the first movie, Insidious (2010), focuses on a family of five who’ve recently moved into a new home. Patrick Wilson is the patriarch of this family, Josh Lambert, and Rose Byrne plays his wife, Renai Lambert. The couple and their three children: Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins), Foster (played by Andrew Astor), and Kali (played by an uncredited duo of baby actors) begin to experience weird occurrences at this new home. Renai is the initial target of such hauntings as she hears weird noises in the home and has her belongings moved around.
What starts as a normal run of the mill haunting soon turns darker when Dalton falls in their attic and goes into a coma the next day. Dalton doesn’t wake from said coma and ends up at home hooked up to machines with a nurse who comes to provide additional care. Once Dalton is in his coma things go haywire for the Lamberts. Renai hears a man’s voice over Cali’s baby monitor, sees figures that disappear before Josh gets there, and finds a bloody hand print in Dalton’s bed. In a not so shocking twist the hauntings increase in intensity and after Renai is attacked the family decides to move.
I rather liked that they decided to move as it is closer to what would actually happen if any of these occurrences happened to a real family. Now, one might wonder, what is the plan for this plot if they have escaped the haunted house that ails them. Surprise! It wasn’t the house at all and shortly after moving the hauntings picked back up. Renai sees a young boy dressed in period wear from the industrial revolution era and Josh’s mother, Lorraine (played by Barbara Hershey) comes over due to a nightmare about the house and a demon. This leads into the first shot of one of the most iconic demons in this franchise: the Lipstick-Face Demon (aka The Man With Fire on His Face or the Red Faced Demon).
The demon wants to take over Dalton’s body and live on Earth amongst the living. He isn’t the only one, we are introduced to a whole fleet of demons who have put two and two together that Dalton is not in his physical body and it’s vacant for the taking. Not as easy as it sounds however and the one closest to accomplishing this is the red faced demon. So where is Dalton’s non-physical form? The Further.
The Further is what the movies center around, that and the badass Elise Rainier who is flawlessly performed by the amazing Lin Shaye. I can say this much: the best thing about the franchise is Elise and her abilities, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Lorraine notices similarities between Dalton and the kid version of Josh and calls in the help of Elise and her paranormal squad, Specs (played by Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (played by Angus Sampson). Specs and Tucker arrive first in order to determine if this is an actual haunting or something else.
With Specs and Tucker we get a taste of some of the techniques paranormal investigators might use to determine if an entity is present. Entities are present all right so Elise Rainier have (played by Lin Shaye) is then brought in to examine. Elise is a psychic medium who can also travel into the Further as a living person. She lets them know about the red faced demon and confirms that Dalton has been astral projecting in his sleep believing it to be dreams. Dalton traveled too far into the Further and became lost, unable to return to his physical body. Due to Dalton’s physical body being vacant a beacon signal is sent into the Further and all the wretched entities stuck there want another shot at life by possessing him.
Long story short Elise saves the day, during this we learn Josh is also a gifted astral projector who had his powers erased from memory in order to protect him from The Bride in Black, an entity that desires to possess his physical form. Dalton is back in his body after Josh travels into the Further to bring him home. Unfortunately since Josh’s astral form resided in the Further his physical form became vacant which allowed for The Bride in Black to take over his body and possess him.
We believe all is well until Elise senses some fuck shit and takes a photo of Josh (allowing her to see that he is not Josh but The Bride in Black). This enrages Possessed-Josh and he strangles Elise to death. We end with Renai looking at the camera in horror after discovering Elise’s dead body.
The ending to Insidious (2010) is one of the worst plot twists of all time. Not because it didn’t make for a good movie, on the contrary the twist ending is a great way to end the plot. However, killing the most interesting and central character, Elise, to this universe is such an oversight I cannot believe they let it happen. It curtails any future stories and constricts the franchise in a huge way that it can only exist in timelines prior to 2010.
I decided to go about this post a little differently, I’ve been adapting to each franchise and what is, selfishly, most interesting to me. The four installments aren’t anything revolutionary past what I have already mentioned (as well as the sound and some special effect things) and the first movie is by far the best in the bunch.
As mentioned the franchise is severely restricted to what it can do because the people care about Elise, not the Lamberts, but she has been killed. So, we do the only things possible: in the second movie Elise saves them and gets everyone back in their right bodies from the Further like the badass she is, in the third movie we’re a few years before the events of the first movie and Elise gets back into the business to save a teen from a separate demon, the Wheezing Demon, and in the fourth movie Elise returns to her past to defeat a demon that has an aversion to whistles and keys for fingers.
I’ll go into more detail as I go on but that is the gist of the franchise, with a fifth movie currently set to be released in 2023. What I found more interesting than the plots themselves are the details like The Further (and the spiritual realm in general), the demons they encounter there, astral projecting, and how shitty of a husband Josh is. I’m starting with Josh because he’s the easiest topic to dive into, once that’s out of the way, buckle up buttercup because we’re on a journey to another reality, one that might actually exist parallel to our own.
WHY I BELIEVE JOSH IS A SHIT HUSBAND
It’s no secret anymore that the happiest people on Earth are single women without children and Josh is a great way to explain why that might be. The first thing I noticed when re-watching was that Josh did nothing to contribute. Renai got up early and went about getting the kids ready for school only to ask Josh if he would fulfill his promise to take the kids to school that day and him brushing it off and also refusing to pick up the kids after school. The fact that it's a textbook overworked mother set off fire alarms in my mind.
In an article written in 2016, “The Invisible Workload that Drags Women Down” by Lisa Wade on Money.com summarizes a 1996 study (“Thinking About the Baby” by Susan Walzer) that demonstrated the household gender gap. This gender gap being that women, even those who work full time, did the majority of the housework and referred to that as “the second shift” when she gets home.
Not only did the women in the 1996 study do more physical housework, the study also showed they did “more of the intellectual, mental, and emotional work of childcare and household maintenance,” which despite a closing gap in household chores is still a large gender gap today. Walzer’s study also found that women had to process information, worry about things, organize, and delegate more. Some examples in Wade’s article are researching pediatricians and deciding what to make for dinner (Money.com, 2016). This work is invisible and harder to quantify when it comes to the division of household labor.
As mentioned before, women do more of the mental work today despite the closing gap in paid and unpaid work between men and women. This can oftentimes lead to negative stereotypes about women in this scenario, whether that’s being called a “nag” or seen as a “helicopter mom” for worrying too much. Wade says it best in the article, “The last step to women’s freedom in household breakdown of responsibilities could be this invisible one,” (Money.com, 2016). In this case freeing women is more about freeing their minds than equality in physical workloads. Throughout the article it’s clear that the wife/mother has to have the “willingness to see” that “allows other people in her family to not have to worry about that,” (Wade, 2016).
Renai is a great example of this phenomenon. The first two movies focus mainly on the Lamberts and for the majority of the time Renai is being pushed to the brink of a mental break. She takes beating after beating, horrifying moment to horrifying moment in her home while trying to protect her children and in the first movie Josh has the audacity to say that he needed a break. He lies and stays at work late to “grade papers” when in reality sleeps and avoids the turmoil at home.
The saving grace being that Renai stands up for herself in this scenario. Calling Josh out on his avoidant behavior. Even then however Josh sticks to his guns and whines about how hard all of this has been on him. Not that he’s worried about their comatose son, about his wife’s mental health and safety, nothing, just himself. The fact that he becomes possessed and spends the majority of the second movie as the Bride in Black and Renai doesn’t even fully recognize or believe that he’s different tells me everything I need to know about this asshole.
In the TCNJ Journal of Student Scholarship, “Parental Involvement: A Review of the Factors Influencing Father Involvement and Outcomes” by Jaclyn Volker reviewed studies that showed (in the heteronormative, nuclear family structure) fathers can provide meaningful differences than their counterparts in some aspects of childhood development (2014). It also found that not only parental involvement but also closeness played an important role in the child being less likely to engage in risky behavior (Volker, 2014).
I say all of this to also point out he’s not the world’s most stellar dad. His child had drawings of a demon next to his bed for who knows how long that he’d drawn pre-coma and he never even thought to take a second look until close to the end of the first movie when his wife and mother are pleading with him that there’s something supernatural going on with Dalton. The most he can offer is a kiss goodbye in the morning before he goes to work, very 1950s if you ask me. He also takes his sweet time to come to the rescue when his wife or children are literally screaming their heads off for help. Even him going into the Further to save his son he met with hesitance and reluctance about.
Can’t stand Josh and the best part of Josh is when Patrick Wilson gets to show off his amazing acting skills in Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) when he’s possessed, decaying, and has been exposed causing him to try to kill everyone in his family. So technically not even Josh but the Bride in Black.
It doesn’t seem that Josh does any of this maliciously and does try to be a good dude, he just falls incredibly short for the majority of the first two movies which royally pissed me off while watching.
Something that did not piss me off however is the red faced demon, most famously associated with the song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” by Tiny Tim and a menacing red door illuminated by a single lightbulb in the Further. I’ll talk more about the Further later on after we clear up some background information, but for now the Further is where the demons and spirits reside. In Insidious it appears as a ghostly version of the real world setting that acts as a portal of sorts.
Two demons in particular are most well known to be from the Insidious franchise; The Man with the Fire in His Face and The Bride in Black. Both are known by various other names. The Man with Fire in His Face aka Lipstick-Face Demon is an entity that rules over the Further who almost got Dalton in Insidious (2010). He lives in the attic of the Lamberts just beyond the earlier mentioned red door.
The Insidious lore goes that rather than going to Hell with the other Demons he went to the Further which is between Heaven and Hell. He’s not a detailed character in that his motivations seem to be evil with some more evil for the sake of evil. Elise tells the Lamberts in the first movie that he’s the kind of demon that just wants to cause pain to others. He is a character and demon that appears in every Insidious movie, similar to Elise his story is interwoven throughout.
The other most well known entity in Insidious is The Black Bride. Rather than a demon, The Black Bride aka Parker Crane is the ghost (or spirit?) of a human being born in 1920’s California to his mother, Michelle Crane. His absentee father gave him the name Parker and his mother, Michelle, wishes to raise him as a little girl named ‘Marilyn’ by any means necessary. These means include humiliating Parker and abusing him to comply with her wishes and obey her commands.
The Bride in Black is stated to be a manifestation of Parker’s darker side, created by his mother’s torment, in a black dress he used to get women to trust him in order to kill them while evading the police. He eventually kills himself and forms a bond with Josh after seeing Lorraine at the hospital after his death.
Like Lipstick-Face Demon, Parker Crane appears in many of the franchise's movies and is a common thread between the installments. He haunts young Josh but prior to getting close enough to possess him Elise is called in to help. Once Elise rids Josh of The Bride in Black she herself is followed by Crane, appearing every time she attempts to go into the Further and kill her. This foreshadows in the prequel to her death in the first movie and serves as a call-back to fans in the first three movies.
One thing to know is that all entities, demons and ghosts alike, all want the same thing in the Further: to live again. Demons as we know them are malevolent supernatural entities who are referenced by some to be responsible for specific evils and by others to be agents of the Devil. Either way, their motive isn’t typically cited as wanting to live but rather wanting to create death and destruction to humans. In this way Insidious takes an interesting turn in that ghosts can have the same possession abilities as demons but with the sole purpose of living rather than harming (unless they have to of course).
Ancient demons often get a bad rep for the actions of human “sinners” when the evils delve into the hard to imagine. What doesn’t get a bad rep is the ability to enter into their realm of existence by metaphysical means.
ASTRAL PROJECTION & WESTERN ESOTERICISM
First off we need to get some background knowledge out of the way. Western esotericism is the umbrella that astral projection falls under in spirituality. Scholars identify that to be “a wide range of loosely related ideas and movements that developed within Western society” (Western esotericism, 2022). In the 1690’s Ehregott Daniel Colberg is the first person cited to have written about categorizing Western philosophy and thought under the same school of thought, which is Western esotericism (2022). He of course painted these ideas as “heretical” and the antithesis to what he believed to be “true christianity” (2022).
During the 17th and 18th century Age of Enlightenment the ideas became categorized as magic and the occult, superstition (Western esotericism, 2022). So no surprise there that a person traveling outside of their physical form on a whim would be considered someone doing some wacky shit. Astral projection is an intentional out-of-body experience or OBE where one exists in an “astral body” that’s consciousness operates outside of the physical body.
It’s most often associated with dreams and meditation, hence Dalton’s belief his astral projections to just be harmless dreams. Though there isn’t scientific evidence, many report some studies have been done to try and induce out-of-body experiences. The study, “Downward and Parallel Perspectives in an Experimental Study of Out of Body Experiences” by Kentaro Hiromitsu and Akira Midorikawa published in 2015 defines OBEs as “those in which an individual seems to view his/her [their] body and the world from a location outside [their] body” and reported this from both healthy people and those considered to be psychological or neurological patients. They did find that OBEs could be induced experimentally under different testing conditions with camera angles and goggles (Hiromitsu and Midorikawa, 2015). They did not however explore what that could mean in regard to things like astral projection being scientifically possible.
Western esotericism considers the astral body to be made of light and linked from the physical body to it as it functions like a soul. This example of astral projection is what I believe is most similar to that in Insidious. That astral planes exist somewhere amongst our own planes and are populated by supernatural beings, like demons (Astral projection, 2022). This phenomenon is not only reported in Western cultures however, appearing across the globe and time in Ancient Egypt, Hinduism, and Taoist to name just a few (Astral projection, 2022).
In “Why Do Ghosts Wear Clothes?” an editorial published in 2019 in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, the author separates OBEs into two categories. The "internalist hypothesis" that evidence is illusionary and experiences are “misleadingly vivid type[s] of clairvoyance” often with evidence of ESP (351-358).
The other is the "externalist hypothesis" that the OBEs consciousness is separated from the physical form and is at the sites that the OBErs perceive them to be, like in Insidious (“Why Do Ghosts Wear Clothes?”, 2019). The editorial includes an example of a woman, Martha, traveling in the dark only to see a light and going towards said light; that light then becomes Martha’s mother’s home and she is looking at her mother who appears to also be looking at her (2019). Martha’s mother then writes to her about the experience from her POV and confirms that she saw Martha looking exactly how she reports to have looked during her OBE from outfit to clothes.
All of this to say that there is evidence of astral projection and the concept is common throughout history in various cultures. Not only that but Insidious displays examples of Western esotericism’s interpretation of astral projection and astral planes specifically and does a really accurate job at it. I tip my hat to this, I expected to find that Insidious had pulled some fuck shit that had been made up after some writer saw an unfamiliar cultural practice, but I am happy to be wrong.
TRAVELING INTO THE FURTHER
Finally we come to the realm of the Further itself. The only thing as interesting as Elise or Lipstick-Face Demon is the Further; how and why did it come to be, can anyone go, are there multiple universes based on the decisions made during time travel in the Further? The questions it brings about are endless and the only real source of solid information of the lore is the Insidious Wiki Fandom website.
The website describes the Further as a “vast, dark, and empty dimension which is an important location between Heaven, Earth, and Hell” and as mentioned earlier is ruled over by the Lipstick-Face Demon. Elise fills us in that it’s a place where “damned souls” remain forever. Humans aren’t common there and it’s recommended that the living avoid it. It’s nowhere and everywhere at the same time, bending time and space to fit the needs of the plot.
The Further is heavily influenced by outside factors that act upon it, whether that be deceased people’s memories creating mirror locations or timelines intersecting and the two versions of a character interacting to solve problems.
The rules around Elise’s powers and the Further are a bit murkier however. She goes there as a child in the fourth movie, Insidious: the Last Key (2018) against her will but we’ve already been made aware of her work helping people with the Further since then and ability to go at will - meaning she’s overcome this childhood fear. We also know that she worked with Gary, who is in the second and third movies, to help those who come into contact with malevolent entities from the Further and contacting loved ones who’ve passed.
Over the course of the second and third movie we dive deeper into her struggles with the Further (being attacked upon entry for example) and the challenges she’s had to overcome to even be able to help Dalton in the first movie. Even when we first meet her she has to send Josh into the Further rather than going in herself to save Dalton as the experienced astral projector. It’s obvious to watchers that these sometimes confusing developments are due to needing the plot of the next movie to make sense while focusing on Elise WHO THEY KILLED IN THE FIRST MOVIE!
Elise’s character struggles throughout every movie with the Further and coming into her powers and abilities there but this is what makes her so great. Unlike in the Conjuring series the powers of the ghost hunters are limited and wavering, I mean shit she gets defeated in the first movie. It feels more triumphant that she is able to time and time again face her fears after life threatening defeats from entities in the Further and continue to help people. Elise’s story is the Insidious franchise.
POST MARATHON THOUGHTS & KEY TAKEAWAYS
Watching the Insidious movies this week rejuvenated me after a dark, dark path down Hellraiser Lane and for that alone they are top tier so far. I believe the movies after the first installment became too harshly criticized when they came out. I remember thinking all of them fell short except for the first one but upon rewatching them I genuinely enjoyed each movie and found myself thought provoked by the decisions the team had made and if I would make the same decisions or change things entirely. I would recommend any of these movies for a predictable but good set of movies, even if only because of Elise, Specs, and Tucker.
Lore of the Insidious World
Chapter 1 Lore
Chapter 2 Lore
Chapter 3 Lore
The Last Key
Reviews and Receptions
Psychological, Sociological, Historical, and Metaphysical Connections
Women’s heteronormative roles in family systems - first and second film specific
Spiritual Realm & Metaphysics Background
Demons & Ghosts
Effect the Franchise Had on Horror & Fun-Facts