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The "Insidious" Franchise and Why Paranormal Horror Isn't Scary

Beatrice is a horror movie enthusiast who has absorbed countless movies throughout the horror subgenres.

"Insidious" movie poster.

"Insidious" movie poster.

The Usual Introduction


I'd like to point out that this article reflects my opinion on the Insidious horror movie franchise and general thoughts on the paranormal horror genre as a whole. I'm not here to ruin the fun for anyone. If you enjoyed the movies, great! If you didn't, perhaps you'll agree with some of my points.

With that out of the way, let's get to it!

What Is "Insidious Chapter 1" All About?

If it wasn't apparent from the title of this section, I'll be discussing the first Insidious movie. Be warned of major spoilers ahead.

The movie concerns itself with a regular ol' family having just moved to a new house (like all horror movies). The family consists of a father, mother, their two sons (though the second son is hardly necessary for the plot), and their infant daughter. We're off to a quick start as strange forces begin moving objects and slowly shutting doors right off the bat. The first son, Dalton, decides to investigate the creepy attic after a door creaks open in front of him. After falling down a ladder and being spooked by something in the shadows, his parents come to his rescue and everything seems good.

The following morning, Dalton isn't waking up and it turns out he's in a coma (though the doctors don't actually know what's wrong with him). This, of course, devastates the family, puts huge pressure on the parents, and just generally messes things up for everyone involved.

After this, the mother (I cannot for the life of me remember her name) starts seeing and hearing weird things around the house, voices in the baby monitor, figures in the shadows, etc. This goes on until she convinces her husband to move out of the house, but alas, the spooky hauntings follow them to their new home.

It gets to the point where the grandmother calls in an "old friend" of hers to help the family. After some preliminary investigations, they conclude that their house is indeed filled with spooky ghosts and this woman, Elise, decides to help them.

After a couple of scenes, which can only be described as using Elise as a Ouija board, the family is finally informed that Dalton has astral-projected into the mysterious Further, a world where the dead (and a couple of demons) reside, jealous of the people in the living world and their functional bodies.

Dalton got lost, a demon (with the sickest make-up I've ever seen) wants to possess his body, and yeah, things are bad.

Turns out that the reason the grandmother knew Elise, was because, years ago, some old dead woman was trying to steal the father's body, and that he too possesses the ability of astral projection (but forgot all about it). Now he has to go into The Further to get his son back.

He does so, meeting all kinds of weird and nonsensical characters before rescuing his son just before his family (back in the normal world) gets swarmed by ghosts. All is well, he and his son both wake up, and they lived happily ever after!

However, Elise is suspicious so she takes a picture of the father (because this reveals ghosts in this universe) and it turns out that he has been possessed by the old woman who haunted him when he was a child. He/she gets mad because of this and strangles Elise. Insert cliff-hanger here.

If I sound displeased with the movie, it's because I am, but more about that in the next section.

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Why Is It So Incredibly Underwhelming?

First of all, I've watched Insidious before and I hated it. Recently, I thought: "Hey! Why not give it another go? You were probably too hard on it anyway," so I did. Turns out I wasn't too hard on it, it's still incredibly underwhelming and let me explain why!

For the first half-hour or so (if you cut out some ghost bullshit), the movie almost seems like a sorrowful tale of an innocent family in a bad situation, and honestly, that's heartbreaking to watch. The movie is shot beautifully and I believe the actors deliver their lines and performances rather well, so it truly is sad to watch.

What really bothers me is how this clearly isn't meant to be the point of the movie. No no no, it's ghosts and the afterlife (sorry, Further), of course. I tried to convince myself while watching it, that all these paranormal events were merely symbolism. A way to portray this family's struggles in a more visual and horror-like way, but as the minutes flew by, it was very clear that the paranormal elements weren't just there to back up the tragic story of a family being torn apart by their son's sudden condition, but they were the story. It wasn't about the family. It was about this mysterious Further world.

In my book, that just isn't scary! Sure, death can be a pretty horrifying thing to imagine, but what I really liked about the first 30 minutes of the movie, were that they felt genuine and real. It was scary because it was real. It was scary because this situation could happen to anyone. Illness, and the emotional devastation it brings people, is terrifying!

Dread is a valid emotion to make your audience feel. Make your viewers connect with your characters and feel their pain. In my opinion, there's nothing a horror movie can do that is more effective and downright amazing than this. I don't care about your cheap three-second jumpscare flicks, I want emotional trauma!

He do be quite spooky, not gonna lie.

He do be quite spooky, not gonna lie.

My Thoughts On Paranormal Horror

Having now raged about the first Insidious movie, what can we learn from this endeavour? To be honest, I'm not sure. Insidious isn't the only movie to suffer from this. The entire genre of paranormal horror is affected by this idea that people just want some spooky ghosts, and yeah, sometimes we do, but that's not really the point here.

I have watched a lot of horror movies, especially paranormal ones, and they just don't cut it. I'm sick of watching chairs move and doors creak. What I crave is believable characters with personality and a reason to connect with them. When you've built a bond between your character and the viewer, you can take them on the craziest emotional ride imaginable, because you're now in control. Your viewer is hooked and whatever you put that poor character through, your viewer will experience as well.

Listen, I'm not saying that making a movie featuring ghosts or other paranormal entities is a bad thing, I just think it's overdone. It contains very little substance on its own and therefore works great as something that backs up an already well-written story. As I mentioned, I really, really wanted the whole paranormal thing in Insidious to just be a way of conveying the torment of the family. A visual representation of their suffering, and not a literal descend into the afterlife, which I'm fairly certain it ended up being.

Point is, it's your creative project (you're a screenwriter now, congratulations) and you can do whatever you want, but please, I beg you, don't overshadow your plot by throwing in a zombie from the left or a demon from the right. You're supposed to use these extra goodies to enhance your storyline, not replace it.

The Plot Thickens! "Insidious Chapter 2"?

And 3. And 4...

Now, I haven't watched these at the time of writing, but I probably will (because I'm a masochist). I don't know what these might contribute to the Insidious universe, but considering how many of them there are, I'm fairly certain that my assumption about the story of the movie being The Further and not family struggles, is true.

Perhaps they'll convince me that the franchise doesn't just exist to earn money while throwing cheap and overused constructs in the viewer's face.

Though, I doubt it. Until next time, my friends.

© 2021 Beatrice Sloan


Beatrice Sloan (author) on June 04, 2021:

Thank you, John Plocar, for taking the time to read my review. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

I appreciate your comment as it has been fairly thought-provoking, and I agree that I did sort of expect a different movie than what was created. This could be a mistake on my part (if you can call it that).

Insidious, as it turned out, is indeed a fairly interesting movie, with some fascinating concepts. Sadly, I think I've been over-exposed to paranormal horror and its seemingly meaningless use of creaking doors and mirror jumpscare scenes, and I might have taken my frustrations out on Insidious.

It is by no means a bad movie and I do look forward to exploring its sequels (even if they turn out to not cater to my tastes). Thank you again for your input, it is much appreciated.

John Plocar from Weatherford on June 03, 2021:

Your review was certainly an interesting interpretation that you have on Insidious and obviously your take on the 'paranormal horror' subgenre as a whole. To me though, it sounds like you wanted a completely different movie out of this than what it's actually trying to be. You seem to have gravitated more towards the family drama elements, which are certainly a significant part of the script, but at no point does this movie ever try solely centering its plot around the medical drama of it. To me, it's made very clear from the start that this is a horror throwback to haunted house flicks like The Entity.

I can understand why paranormal horror movies might not be one's cup of tea, even I grow weary of the genre from time to time. However when it's done well then I think it can be a fun and creepy time. To me, Insidious is exactly that while providing characters we do enjoy and root for. No, it doesn't take the route you seemingly were hoping for with using the ghosts as symbolism while making this story into a heart wrenching drama, but that doesn't mean it doesn't succeed as being the horror movie it's striving to be. If you're looking for a paranormal type film that does utilize its "ghosts" as symbolism then I would recommend checking out flicks like The Haunting (1963) or The Babadook (2014). Those are brilliant horror films that do play with supernatural elements feeding into psychological themes.

I enjoyed reading your review and I look forward to seeing your thoughts on the rest of the series... especially the last one which is actually pretty bad haha take care!

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