Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson in 'Insidious'

Unpacking the ‘Insidious’ Franchise, Film by Film

"It's not the house that's haunted. It's your son."

We have been watching the Insidious movies since 2010, and we still can’t get enough of the ghostly antics and blood-curdling scares. The film series—the brainchild of Leigh Whannell and James Wan, the same duo who brought us the macabre Saw—has spawned five films so far, from the original Insidious to 2023’s The Red Door, with each film adding its own eerie flavor to the mix.

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Insidious introduced us to the Lambert family, who, much to their dismay, discover that moving houses doesn’t necessarily mean you can leave your ghosts behind. While not as groundbreaking as the original, the subsequent sequels have continued this saga with varying degrees of success. While critics argue that the series loses some of its original luster with each new installment, theaters continue to burst at the seams with eager viewers, demonstrating that people can’t get enough of the Lambert family’s supernatural misfortunes.

So, whether you’re a dedicated follower of the series or just a casual viewer, one thing’s for sure: you can’t deny the Insidious films’ haunting impact on the horror genre. And with more films on the horizon, this spectral vessel will continue its cinematic journey. But for the time being, below is the current lineup of films in order of their release.

Insidious (2010)

A red-and-black demon appears behind Patrick Wilson in 'Insidious'

The original Insidious picture, comparable to a well-orchestrated exorcism in a suburban living room, walked the narrow line between the covertly disconcerting and the downright horrifying. This film, directed by modern master of horror James Wan and written by Leigh Whannell, revolves around the Lambert family, who, in classic horror fashion, move into a new house only to find it’s more populated by the dead than the living. 

In the film, creaking doors and flickering lights aren’t just household nuisances but harbingers of horrors from the other side. As beleaguered parents, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne master the art of looking petrified, a skill most of us only practice when checking bank statements. Meanwhile, the soundtrack, a symphony of screeches and whispers, does to your nerves what a cheese grater does to cheddar.

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Patrick Wilson bathroom scene in Insidious Chapter 2

Insidious: Chapter 2 is like attending a family reunion in a haunted mansion—familiar faces, new secrets, and the occasional uninvited ghost. Directed once again by the maestro of creep, James Wan, this chapter delves deeper into the Lambert family’s spectral dilemmas, proving that their first encounter with the otherworldly was merely an appetizer in a full-course meal of supernatural terror. Insidious: Chapter 2 picks up where the first left off, blurring the lines between the living and the dead with the skill of a spirit playing with an Ouija board. 

Patrick Wilson returns as Josh Lambert, who may or may not have come back from the astral plane solo. His wife, played by the perpetually exasperated Rose Byrne, grapples with the increasingly bizarre occurrences that suggest their ghostly troubles followed them home like a lost dog from Hell. Insidious: Chapter 2 doesn’t hide its ambitious attempt to stitch together the narrative gaps left in the first film. Sure, the sequel might not have the fresh scare factor of the original, but it compensates with a storyline twisted enough to keep you guessing and glancing nervously over your shoulder.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Stefanie Scott and Dermot Mulroney in 'Insidious: Chapter 3'
(Focus Features)

Directed by Leigh Whannell (who penned the previous chapters and co-stars as Specs), Insidious: Chapter 3 takes us back in time. This time, the spotlight shifts to a new family, but fear not (or rather, fear more), for the spectral world remains as unwelcoming as ever. The film introduces us to Quinn Brenner, played by Stefanie Scott, who, in a classic teenager move, decides to contact her late mother, unwittingly dialing the wrong spirit. Enter Lin Shaye, reprising her role as the intrepid psychic Elise Rainier, who’s more reluctant than a cat at bath time to dive back into the ghost-hunting game. 

What unfolds is a chilling game of cat-and-mouse, or rather, girl and ghost. While Insidious: Chapter 3 treads familiar ground with its jump scares and creepy whispers, it’s like a well-worn blanket—comforting in its predictability yet capable of sending chills down your spine. It serves as an origin story for Elise, adding layers to her character. The film may not reinvent the wheel (or the Ouija board), but it spins a yarn that’s captivating enough to make you leave the lights on at night—just in case.

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

Insidious The Last Key
(Universal Pictures)

Insidious: The Last Key is akin to a ghost returning for one last haunt—familiar, a tad nostalgic, and with unfinished business. This chapter focuses on the beloved parapsychologist Elise Rainier, portrayed yet again by Lin Shaye, who has been more of a ghostbuster than a bystander in the series. Elise faces her most personal case in a twist of fate: a haunting in her childhood home, where the skeletons in the closet are not just metaphorical.

The film, directed by Adam Robitel, delves into Elise’s past, unearthing literal and figurative demons. The narrative travels between past and present, shedding light on why Elise is as comfortable in the realm of the dead as most are in their living rooms. We meet her family, and let’s say it’s clear her upbringing was less Leave It to Beaver and more “Leave it to Beelzebub.” The film combines jump scares with a touch of family drama, like a Thanksgiving dinner where the turkey might just gobble back. 

Insidious: The Red Door (2023)

Josh Lambert looking startled in Insidious: The Red Door
(Sony Pictures Releasing)

The fifth and supposedly final installment in the Insidious franchise, Insidious: The Red Door, is a bit like a haunted house on its last legs. Still, there’s something about the Insidious movies that keeps me coming back, and The Red Door is no exception. And, given that it was a commercial triumph, collecting $189 million worldwide and becoming the series’ highest-grossing feature, I’m not the only one who can’t get enough of the Lamberts. 

In his directorial debut, Patrick Wilson picks up the story nine years after the Lambert haunting, following Josh Lambert as he struggles to recall his time in The Further. He recently went through a divorce from Renai, and his mother, Lorraine, passed away. Moreover, his connection with his son Dalton has also deteriorated. Still, Josh makes an effort to mend fences while driving his son off to university before they fight, and Josh finds himself haunted by the spirit of a man. The film attempts to tie up loose ends, providing a reasonably satisfying wrap-up to the Lambert family’s story. 

(featured image: FilmDistrict)

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Faith Katunga
Faith is a freelance journalist with an insatiable curiosity for all aspects of current events, from the global economy and fashion to pop culture and travel. She watches an absurd number of cat videos on Instagram when not reading or writing about what is going on in the world. Faith has written for several publications, including We Got This Covered, Italy Magazine, TheTravel, etc., and holds a master's degree in Fashion Culture and Management.