It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a decade since the first Insidious film was released, following the horrific challenges faced by a couple (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) who must defend their son against the malevolent paranormal forces that have invaded their home. Created by James Wan and Leigh Whannell, the long-running franchise follows the lambert family and paranormal investigator Elise Rainer (Lin Shaye) through paranormal worlds, psychic visions, and a franchise timeline that has been anything but traditional.
Whether you’re rewatching the Insidious films or diving in for the first time, there are two options for the viewing order: following the straightforward release dates, or letting the story unfold chronologically. You can’t go wrong either way, but if you prefer to understand all of the prequel backstory before getting invested in characters, then you might enjoy a chronological viewing.
Insidious Movies in Chronological Order of Events
This looks confusing, but here’s how it basically breaks down: the second film is a sequel to the first, and the third and fourth are a consecutive pair of prequels that lead directly into the first film.
Half of Insidious: The Last Key
While much of The Last Key is set following the events of Insidious: Chapter 3, the film also heavily features flashbacks to Elise’s childhood, where we witness her traumatic childhood – not just because of the spirits she sees everywhere, but her abusive father. The Last Key is the most Elise-centric film in the franchise, exploring her family connections, her past with Specs (Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson), and untangling a deadly secret from her childhood in Five Keys, New Mexico. Aside from the flashbacks, The Last Key also introduces Elise’s nieces, one of which shares her psychic gifts.
Insidious: Chapter 3
If you came to the franchise hoping to see The Conjuring star Patrick Wilson get spooked again, then you’re going to want to skip this one. It doesn’t feature Wilson, or his co-star Rose Byrne, at all. Instead, it answers the question: What was the demonologist Elsie Rainier (Lin Shaye) doing before she stepped into the Lambert house? Turns out, she was pretty busy getting coaxed out of retirement by a teenager who wanted help contacting her deceased mother. She tries not to engage with the girl once she realizes that she’s being hunted by a demonic spirit, but soon finds she can’t actually disengage.
This film ends on a classic cliffhanger of “she thinks everything is okay, but it’s not,” setting up the next chapter.
The Other Half of Insidious: The Last Key
The fourth installment in the franchise takes place after Chapter 3, but with flashbacks to Elsie’s childhood. Considering Elsie has been a wise older medium who must help protect the Lambert family in the previous films, this new angle on her character is fascinating, especially if you find yourself curious about the origins of someone who can communicate with nonhuman entities.
The most important detail about this film, in terms of its bearing on the rest of the franchise, is what happens toward the end. While she is battling demons, Elsie opens a door and sees a young boy, Dalton Lambert, trapped in a room. She leaves this boy, but has a dream that night that he is battling a demon. Then she wakes up to a phone call from Lorraine Lambert, the boy’s grandmother, requesting her help. This overlap with the child at the center of Insidious: Chapter 1 brings the series full-circle.
Insidious: Chapter 1
When Josh (Wilson) and Renai’s (Byrne) son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), falls into an inexplicable coma, the doctors quickly run out of answers. Desperate and exhausted from their fruitless stay at the hospital, the couple takes Dalton home. Once there, they experience increasingly disturbing paranormal happenings and eventually enlists the help of Elsie, a woman who, if we’re following these films chronologically, we already know quite well when she shows up to help. When a demon takes control of Josh’s body and murders Elsie, it’s more tragic for what we know about her childhood, for how we’ve been able to grow more attached to her. In either viewing sequence, the fact of Josh killing the person who is there to help his son survive highlight’s the show’s commentary on the roles that men play in domestic spheres.
Insidious: Chapter 2
In this film, the Lambert family must contend with Josh’s possession and the legal ramifications of his physical body having murdered Elsie. Even from beyond the grave, Elsie, summoned by one of her colleagues, helps the family piece together the mystery of what happened while protecting them from the imminent threat that the demon still poses to them. Sitting squarely in the middle of the franchise’s overall narrative, the second film encapsulates the ebb and flow to the Lambert family’s terror, and the terror that radiates out around them into the lives of the people with whom they associate. Whether viewed as the end or the beginning, there is nothing completely reassuring about this film. As the family is reunited, Elsie’s spirit gasps at something unseen, something propelling the drama forward toward its perpetual state of malaise.
To truly get at the heart of the concept of evil itself being insidious, the story requires the extra space to stretch out, touch multiple generations, and eschew the predictability of linear time.
Insidious Movies in Order of Release Date
Here is the order of the films as they were released in theaters:
Insidious – April 1, 2011
Insidious: Chapter 2 – September 13, 2013
Insidious: Chapter 3 – June 5, 2015
Insidious: The Last Key – January 3, 2018
Patrick Wilson is set to make his directorial debut with the next Insidious sequel. The fifth film in the franchise was announced in October 2020, with Scott Teems writing a script from a story by Whannell. Wilson will also return to star in the film alongside Ty Simpkins, who will reprise his role as Dalton. Though there aren’t many details on the film yet, we know that it will pick up with the Lamberts 10 years after the last installment, as Dalton begins college.
In the official announcement for Insidious 5, Wilson said in a statement:
“I’m honored and thrilled to be at the helm of the next Insidious installment, which will provide an amazing chance to unpack everything the Lamberts went through a decade ago, as well as deal with the consequences of their choices. Directing the movie is both professionally and personally a full-circle moment for me, and I am extremely grateful to be entrusted in continuing to tell this frightening and haunting story. Into The Further we go…”
KEEP READING: How to Watch ‘The Conjuring’ Movies in Order
Season 2 will premiere December 17 on Netflix.
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