Ranked: ‘Insidious’ Films (Halloween Horror Month)
by Daniel Rester
Next to the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious is the other popular horror series from Blumhouse. The first film reenergized James Wan’s career after a couple of critical and financial failures. This paved the way for him to continue his success in horror, with The Conjuring (2013) coming after and being an even bigger hit.
So far, the Insidious series has produced four films, all written by Leigh Whannell and starring Lin Shaye. They have ranged in quality, but there haven’t been any god-awful entries. That’s a rarity for a horror franchise, and hopefully it stays that way for this one. Let’s break down the series for Halloween Horror Month. Here’s how I rank all of them from worst to best, with my short reviews and grades for each film as well.
4. Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)
The second installment of Insidious picks up right after the first after a prologue showing Josh as a kid. James Wan returned to direct this one. While it has better camerawork and less jump scares, it ultimately feels more familiar and campy. The script negates elements from the first film as well. For instance, why is Josh lost in the Further when it was established in the first film that he is a gifted astral projector? Patrick Wilson gets too hammy as a possessed version of Josh and makes the film unintentionally funny at times. There are some chills in Insidious: Chapter 2, but overall it’s a letdown after the first movie. Grade: C
3. Insidious: The Last Key (2018)
Insidious: The Last Key, the fourth film released, is directed by Adam Robitel. It’s a prequel that shows Elise Rainier as a child and then a modern Elise going back to her haunted childhood home. The film gives Elise a lot of interesting backstory and Lin Shaye shines as she finally takes the main protagonist position in one of these films. Robitel gives us a competent spooky film with one standout sequence involving a pipe and suitcases. There’s some surprising mid-film twists as well. Unfortunately Insidious: The Last Key is knocked down a bit by poorly-timed humor from Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson, respectively), some contrived and illogical plot points, and undercooked relationships (Elise and her brother in particular). This one is simultaneously pretty good and underwhelming. Grade: C+
2. Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)
Leigh Whannell tried his hand at directing with the third entry in the series, Insidious: Chapter 3. This one goes away from the Lamberts and acts as a prequel, showing how Elise, Specs, and Tucker met and how they helped a teenager named Quinn (Stefanie Scott). This is the slowest film of the series in terms of pacing, and it has predictable dialogue, but it is also arguably the most emotionally rich. Lin Shaye and Scott get a lot of beats to play as their characters connect through their loss of loved ones, being Quinn’s mom and Elise’s husband. The change of direction with the Quinn character adds a fresh layer to the Insidious world, though Shaye outshines lead actress Scott. The dark spirit with an oxygen mask makes for a memorably unsettling character. Grade: B-
1. Insidious (2010)
The first film in the Insidious series still holds the crown. The story of the Lamberts (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) trying to save their comatose son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) from a dark spirit world is gripping. James Wan and Leigh Whannell give audiences a terrifically chilling setting with “The Further,” with its foggy interiors and pale-faced people. It’s highlighted by the horrifying red-faced and gangly demon. What really holds the film together, though, are the strong performances and characters. Wilson and Byrne have excellent chemistry and their characters are actually fairly smart (they move out of the house when scary shit starts happening). The supporting players are colorful too, with this film introducing the psychic Elise — portrayed by the scene-stealing Lin Shaye. Wan goes for handheld shots and jump scares a bit too often, but overall his handling is skillful as he crafts a film full of atmosphere. Grade: B+