When considering the success of the Insidious franchise, it’s important to spotlight what exactly made these films different yet equally terrifying.
The 2010 supernatural horror film Insidious was directed by James Wan and had a wonderful cast, including Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. Over a decade after its initial release, Insidious is now streaming on HBO Max and serves as a staple for the resurgence of horror movies in the 2010s. Wan only directed the first two films of the franchise, which went together quite well before the series was taken over by Whannell for the third and fourth movies.
What differentiated Insidious from its competitors, including Wan’s other works, such as Saw and The Conjuring, was the fact that the true fear came from the concept of dream walking rather than relying on physical violence, CGI or jump scares. Horror movies often use these tactics to trigger fear responses in their viewers, but Wan wrote on Facebook that he wanted to “shake the torture-porn label” he had acquired from creating Saw in 2004. Many people can probably agree that he accomplished this and used the premise of dream walking as his ultimate scare factor in Insidious.
Eventually, more CGI was added to the later films in the Insidious franchise as scary imagery became more of a selling point for the movies, but the original two movies in the series relied heavily on their ominous tone. Nightmare on Elm Street created an entire successful franchise based on the concept of a spirit that followed people into their dreams, and Insidious hit this mark without relying on a scissor-handed creature (sorry Freddy Krueger) or physical violence. The scares for Insidious were focused more on the idea of children traveling to another world in their dreams and being confronted with spirits that wanted to invade their bodies and walk among the living.
The dream walking aspect in Insidious could also easily represent a generational wound that gets passed down from father to son. Josh (Wilson) doesn’t remember having the ability to travel to “The Further” when he was a child, so he had no way of preparing his son to experience the same terror. This concept adds to the fear as many people could probably relate to the idea of suffering from certain conditions their family had forgotten runs in their lineage. The son Dalton could possibly never wake up from his comatose state, and the fault would be on the father’s side for not taking the initial threat from his childhood seriously.
For those who have seen the original Insidious, the ending does reveal that Josh ultimately becomes possessed by the evil woman who had been harassing him and their son throughout the film. The ending was a perfect way to close out the first movie, as it gave viewers something to look forward to in the next installment, which involved saving Josh from “The Further.” In Insidious: Chapter 2, the movie starts with Josh and Renai (Byrne) contacting the demonologist that helped them previously to confront the continued haunting their family had experienced in the film.
Elise’s (the demonologist) suggestion for how to confront this spirit once again was to force Josh to forget his astral projection ability, repeating the cycle that had put them in danger in the first place. This aspect infers to the audience that forgetting traumatic events doesn’t protect the survivors. When considering the concept of having an uncontrollable condition that causes instability and constant threat to an individual can produce true fear. Focusing on that element for the film truly differentiated Insidious from other horror films at the time since its premise targeted that specific fear of possession and haunting within the dream world.