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Insidious is One of the Scariest Movies Ever Made, and Here’s Why – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Insidious is One of the Scariest Movies Ever Made, and Here’s Why



Horror is an immensely popular genre for those seeking a thrilling rush of adrenaline. Whether it’s the classic psychological suspense of films like The Shining or the intense slasher flicks like A Nightmare on Elm Street, movies in this genre are designed to send shivers down your spine. However, not all horror films live up to the expectation of being truly terrifying. Some have been criticized for their lack of scare factor, reducing the horror genre to predictable jump scares and cheesy killings aimed at a younger audience. Fortunately, director James Wan’s Insidious is not one of those films.

Updated June 27, 2023: In celebration of the upcoming release of Insidious: The Red Door, this article has been enhanced with even more information about the iconic horror franchise by Amanda Minchin. Insidious is widely regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made, and rightfully so. From the very beginning of the film until the credits roll, it is a bone-chilling experience. Insidious elevated the standards of fear, particularly within the context of a haunted house. The movie brings nightmares to life through its horrifying creatures and a house tainted by unspeakable acts. In fact, the film’s success led to the creation of four sequels (Insidious: Chapter 2, Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key, the highly anticipated Insidious: The Red Door, and the spin-off Thread: An Insidious Tale). What sets Insidious apart is not just its terrifying content, but also its innovative storytelling.

So, what is Insidious all about? Sony Pictures’ Insidious follows the story of Josh and Renai Lambert, their sons Dalton and Foster, and their daughter Cali after they move into a new home. Soon after their arrival, they begin to experience strange and ghostly occurrences, such as objects moving and eerie sounds. Just when the audience is hooked, a shocking twist unfolds. It is revealed that the Lamberts’ son, Dalton, falls into a mysterious coma. Fleeing their new home, they soon discover that the horrors they left behind have followed them to their new residence. Surprisingly, it is not the house that is haunted, but their own son. Unlike many horror films, Insidious does not have a straightforward plot. The events that unfold throughout the film have deep roots that stretch further back than anyone could have imagined. In fact, Josh, Dalton’s father, had a similar experience during his childhood, which is further explored in the sequel Insidious: Chapter 2. This intricate plotline adds depth and substance to the film. Even during moments without jump scares or intense horror, there is an underlying sense that something is amiss, leaving the audience on edge. Both within each film and throughout the series, the plot is presented in a non-linear fashion, with abrupt cuts that create an unsettling atmosphere. The conclusion is nothing short of chilling, reminiscent of films like Us.

Insidious offers a different type of fear compared to other movies in the same genre. It has been almost two decades since horror legends James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer) introduced the Saw franchise to the world. Six years later, they released Insidious. Wan shared on Facebook that with Insidious, they wanted to break away from the label that had been associated with them since Saw. He stated, “We felt the most important thing the film needed was to be scary, and so we dove into the creepy world of astral projection (a subject matter that fascinates me) and dimension-traveling.” In Insidious, Wan and Whannell move away from the explicit gore of Saw, delivering a supernatural tale that is truly spine-chilling. The result is a film that relies more on atmosphere and less on graphic violence. Wan later explored a similar aesthetic in The Conjuring franchise, which also featured lead actor Patrick Wilson. This series revolves around a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators who always seem to arrive at the perfect time to confront historical hauntings. While some fans speculate that these two universes are connected, there is currently no evidence to support this theory.

What makes Insidious particularly horrifying is its plausibility. Although the film is primarily fictional, its plot draws heavily from real-life concepts such as genetics, astral projection, and out-of-body experiences. The multi-generational aspect of the characters’ abilities adds depth and complexity to the movie. Both Dalton and his father discover in their childhood that they possess the ability to temporarily leave their physical bodies. They come from a lineage of individuals who can traverse into The Further, a fifth-dimensional realm where the souls of the deceased reside. Practitioners of astral projection claim to exist in this higher plane rather than in our physical reality. In Insidious, this ability makes them targets for malevolent entities seeking to cross over. When Dalton falls into a coma, it is because he has left his body and is unable to return, having been captured by the sinister Man with the Red Face. The Man with the Red Face patiently awaits the moment when he can fully possess Dalton’s body. Similar to the concept of The Upside Down in Stranger Things, Insidious takes the idea of astral projection and stretches it to its limits, creating a horrifying reality of being separated from one’s own body. Even if one doesn’t believe in astral projection, the sight of lifeless bodies in comas is inherently disturbing, particularly when it involves a child. What sets Insidious apart from other horror films is not just its depiction of a child being haunted by an entity, but the deeper reason behind it. Insidious is not merely about a ghost or demon haunting a person. Instead, the demon in the movie selects its vessel with a purpose. The journey of the father and son becomes a cautionary fable, akin to the tale of Icarus, warning those gifted with extraordinary abilities of the potential dangers that lie ahead.

Insidious is renowned for its expertly timed jump scares, some of the best in horror history, and none of them are predictable. What sets these jump scares apart is their combination of visual elements with intense sound effects and flashing lights that unsettle even the most composed viewers. This creates the perfect recipe for a jump scare that rivals the likes of the Cloverfield franchise. Additionally, the parallel jump scares between different scenes are particularly effective. For instance, when Josh investigates a knock on the door, he follows the typical safety precautions. He tests the lights, which abruptly go out, and then uses a flashlight, revealing nothing out of the ordinary. Seeing nothing, he resets the alarm and turns around, only to find the door wide open and the alarm blaring repeatedly. No matter what he does, he can’t seem to keep the door closed! Simultaneously, upstairs, Renai checks on her baby, only to discover a stranger standing in the corner of the room, wearing a sinister smile… All the while, the alarm continues to blare. These expertly crafted jump scares keep the audience on edge, never knowing what terrifying surprise awaits them.

The unsettling music and sound effects in Insidious play a crucial role in setting the atmosphere for the film. The horror score is composed in a way that includes sudden increases in volume and strategically placed sounds, often mingling with barely audible background noises that draw the viewer in. This effectively recreates the visual jump scares using only sound, a challenging feat to achieve. The loud noises produced by the music sharply contrast with the overall silence that pervades most of the film. This stark contrast builds tension, leaving the audience on the edge of their seats, anticipating the next terrifying moment.

In conclusion, Insidious stands out among other films in the horror genre due to its ability to truly terrify viewers. It pushes the boundaries of fear and storytelling, offering a unique and chilling experience. With its intricate plot, plausible concepts, perfectly timed jump scares, and unsettling music, Insidious has rightfully earned its place as one of the scariest movies ever made. So, if you’re in search of a spine-tingling thrill, look no further than Insidious.

Horror is a popular genre for anyone looking for an adrenaline rush. From old-school psychological thrillers like The Shining to original slasher films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, movies in this genre are meant to get the adrenaline pumping. While many horror films have enjoyed successful theatrical releases over the years, not all of them are genuinely scary. These unflinching displays of mediocrity have been chastised for their lack of scare, and rightfully so. They single-handedly lower the standard of the horror genre to predictable jump scares and cheesy juvenile kills.



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Thankfully, Insidious, by director James Wan, is not one of these films.

Updated June 27, 2023: In honor of the upcoming release Insidious: The Red Door, this article has been updated with even more information about the iconic horror franchise by Amanda Minchin.

Insidious is considered one of the scariest movies of all time, and for good reason. The movie is horrifying from the moment the film starts to when the credits roll. Insidious raised the standard of what it means to be frightened, especially in a haunted house. The movie brought nightmares to reality through the horrifying creatures and a house where horrific acts were committed to life. In fact, the film was enough of a success to warrant four sequels (Insidious: Chapter 2, Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious: The Last Key, the long-awaited Insidious: The Red Door, and the offshoot Thread: An Insidious Tale). Better yet, the very way in which they chose to tell this tale has changed the horror game forever. Here’s what makes Insidious one of the scariest movies ever made.



What is Insidious About?

Dalton and his father in Insidious
Sony Pictures

Insidious follows Josh and Renai Lambert, their sons Dalton and Foster, and their daughter Cali after they move into a new house. Once there, they start to experience the usual strange ghostly occurrences… things being moved, odd sounds, etc. Then, just when the audience is hooked, the twist strikes. The Lambert’s son, Dalton, slips into an unusual coma. They flee the new house, only to realize that the problems they’ve left behind have followed them to the new residence. As it turns out, it is their son who is possessed, not the house.

Unlike many films of the horror genre, Insidious doesn’t have a simple plot. The events that occur throughout the film go way back farther than anyone can imagine. As it turns out, Dalton’s father, Josh, had a similar experience as a child, one that is explained further in the sequel Insidious: Chapter 2. The strong plot line supports the film as a whole. Even when there is a lack of jump scares or a lull in the horror, there is still a whir in the background that something is off… the audience just can’t point a finger at what. Both within each film and within the series, the plot is told in a non-linear fashion with jagged cuts. The result is nothing short of unsettling, with an ending that is a culmination of films like Us.

Insidious Has a Different Type of Fear

Rose Byrne in Insidious
Film District

It’s been nearly twenty years since horror legends James Wan (director) and Leigh Whannell (writer) launched the Saw franchise. Six years later, they would go on to release Insidious. Wan wrote on Facebook that with Insidious, he wanted to shake the label that had been following him since Saw. “We felt the most important thing the film needed was to be scary, and so we dove into the creepy world of astral projection (a subject matter that fascinates me) and dimension-traveling,” the director added. In Insidious, Wan and Whannell avoid the bloody entrails of Saw and tell the spooky supernatural story that is scarier than any slasher. The result was less graphic torture porn and more atmospheric.

Wan would go on to create a similar series with this aesthetic in The Conjuring franchise, which also featured lead actor Patrick Wilson. This series follows a husband and wife team of paranormal investigators with the uncanny ability to show up at just the right time for a historical haunt. While fans have speculated the two universes are connected, there is no sign of that at this time.

Plausibility of the Insidious Experience

Foster Lambert in Insidious
FilmDistrict

While the film is mostly based on fiction, part of what makes it so horrifying is the overall real-life plausibility of the plot. The story revolves heavily around the ideas of genetics, astral projection, and having an out-of-body experience. The multi-generational aspect of the gift gives the movie substance and depth. Dalton and his father both discover in boyhood that they can leave their physical bodies for short periods of time.

It turns out they come from a generation of people who can travel to The Further, a fifth-dimensional realm in which the souls of the dead reside. Those who claim to practice astral projection say they are no longer on this plane but instead in the fifth dimension. In this case, their gifts make them the target of such rebellious entities who want to cross over. When Dalton suddenly slips into a coma, it is really because he has left his body and is unable to return because he has been taken captive by the Man with the Red Face. The Man with the Red Face is merely biding his time until he can fully take over Dalton’s body.

Related: Best Modern Horror Movie Directors, Ranked

Similar to the likes of The Upside Down in Stranger Things, Insidious takes the concept of astral projection and stretches it to its limits to create a horrifying reality of being taken from your own body. Even if you don’t believe in astral projection, the lifeless bodies of the comatose are inherently sad and disturbing, especially in a child.

What makes Insidious the best among other movies of the same genre is not the haunting of a child by an entity but rather the reason behind it. Insidious is not about a simple haunting of a human being by a ghost or a demon. Rather, the demon in the movie chooses its vessel with a purpose. The journey of father and son reads like a fable, like Icarus, a story to warn those who are gifted of the possible dangers to come.

Perfectly Timed Jump Scares

Lin Shaye in Insidious
Film District

Insidious is full of some of the best jump scares in horror history, none of which are predictable. Part of what makes Insidious’ jump scares so horrifying is that they are not just visual jump scares. They’re supported by loud sound effects and enough flashing lights to unnerve the most stolid constitutions. This creates the perfect combination to create an ideal jump scare that is similar to films like the Cloverfield franchise.

Paralleling jump scares between two separate scenes is also effective. For example, when Josh goes to inspect a hears a knock on the door, he goes through the typical checklist of how to inspect it safely. He tries the lights, which pop, then a flashlight, which reveals nothing. Seeing nothing, he resets the alarm and turns around, only to be met with the door open and the alarm blaring… over and over again. He just can’t do enough. Despite his best efforts, He just can’t seem to keep the door closed! At the same time, in the room above, Renai goes to check on her baby only to find a stranger standing in the corner of the room, lurking there with a smile on his face… All this while the alarm continues to blare.

Unsettling Music and Sound Effects

Paranormal investigators in Insidious 
FilmDistrict

Part of what sets the scene so fantastically for Insidious is the way the horror score was composed with sudden jumps in volume and sound among the barely-there humming of background noise, the type that really makes you lean in to hear it. Doing this recreates the visual jump scare using only sound, which is not easy to do. The loud noise created by the music contrasts with the overall silence seen throughout most of the film. This contrast creates a great deal of tension as the long bouts of quiet dialogue are punctuated by loud sound effects or sudden shouts.

A perfect example of this is the early and continued use of the baby monitor. Known to pick up extraneous wavelengths, it’s little surprise when Renai is drawn to the distinctly not-baby-like noise emanating from the speaker. She draws the monitor closer and closer, turning up the volume to hear until BAM! The result is like a car radio turned on full blast. Renai’s instinct to chuck it and run for her baby’s room at that point is both completely understandable and to be admired.

Terrifying Supernatural Entities

Still from Insidious The Red Door
FilmDistrict

Some creatures from horror films are iconic enough to become popular Halloween costumes. For example, Jason from the Friday the 13th franchise is a popular costume choice, with his easy-to-salvage old-school hockey mask and a machete in hand. It’s not the mask but the wearer that makes it terrifying.

The creature in Insidious, however, is scary both in appearance and for what that appearance represents. It’s also not something everyone can recreate. With yellow eyes, a red face, sharp pointed teeth, long talons, and hooves for feet, the Man with the Red Face is something out of nightmares. While not much is seen of this creature, the taste that we get in the film is enough to unsettle even the strongest of stomachs. And, as if his appearance wasn’t enough, seeing him walk on the wall, leaving behind huge holes from his heavy-footing trotting as he chases Renai with an unsettling smile on his face and a crazed look in his eyes will leave audiences gasping for air. And he’s not the only one.

Related: Insidious: Every Type of Demon in the Movies, Explained

The family of ghosts living in the previous house in The Further is the perfect nuclear family, representative of both what could be and what is. Their uncannily similar, but just off appearance is as fun as it is unsettling. How the entities in this film are portrayed is just as important as what they look like. The way Insidious was filmed seems to be from an outsider’s perspective. While most movies are made to show a story, the many pans from a single point are meant to show that the family is being watched. For example, the audience gets the sense that Renai is not alone when she is playing the piano, and the camera comes around the corner to watch. This is done through the use of single-point perspective by simply panning the camera while it remains stationary rather than having the camera move with Renai. This perspective is also achieved through a bit of shaky cam usage and a lack of focus on a single subject.

Insidious’ Strong and Unsettling Plot

Rose Byrne in Insidious
FilmDistrict

Insidious is one of the ultimate films when it comes to creating an overall feeling of unease. When Renai insists that they leave the house, believing it to be haunted, and they do move, it doesn’t solve any of the issues. Unlike other horror movies that usually follow the same storyline, starting with unexplainable occurrences and ending with the apparition of a dark and evil entity who either wants to possess a house or a body, Insidious is different. The plot is always building. Just when the audience thinks they have an answer as to what’s going on, they discover something completely different. At first, the movie seems to be walking in the shadow of its haunted house predecessors. However, when the family decides to move out to put a stop to the scary occurrences, they’re surprised to find that the unexplainable noises, the boxes being mysteriously moved, and the shadowy figures still persist.

Related: Is Insidious Based on a True Story?

At this point, the movie plays on not just our own preconceptions, vulnerability, and fears but also our own curiosity. It drives the viewer to ask what the entity actually wants. Allowing this space of curiosity, questioning, and mystery creates the kind of tension that makes a story stand out. The entity is intelligent. It doesn’t want a house. It wants the untainted, pure, and transparent body of a young boy to be its vessel in this world. Even with this slippery plot, the film leaves no holes behind while still managing to unsettle the audience. As a result, it gives just the right surge of adrenaline every horror fanatic craves.

Insidious Preys On Every Parent’s Worst Nightmare

Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne in Insidious
FilmDistrict

Take away the ghostly apparitions and jump scare in Insidious, and what do you have? A film that is scary because it is rooted in truth. Not a true story, that is (though this arguably is up for debate), but a story that is based on the elemental fears of parenthood. Insidious preys on the fears parents have of a sick child that they are unable to help.

After a benign accident, Renai and Josh must tend to a comatose child who isn’t in a coma at all. They do what they can and try their best, but still have no idea what they’re in for. The moment when Josh tries to wake up his son for school following his fall is as heartbreaking as it is scary. Insidious also preys on the fears parents have of a child that’s lost. The Further provides a space that is neither here nor there, an unknown location from which there is maybe a tether. Their only hope is in a psychic, whom Josh is not willing to believe, particularly at first. The fear of the strange and unknown here is what really dials down the danger throughout. Then there’s the idea of intergenerational trauma. Not being able to care for their sick child is one thing. Having passed the sickness on to them is another. Having passed the ability to leave his body on to his son leaves Josh with a lingering guilt born from his own unresolved issues. Even by the end, when he is forced to face his past, having buried it deep down for so long instead of facing it becomes his downfall.

Insidious Is A Scary Movie That Can Be Seen By Young Audiences

Patrick Wilson and Joseph Bishara in Insidious
FilmDistrict

The true genius of Insidious is its rating. The movie is PG-13, which for most horror fans is a bad sign as it tends to signify a watered-down scary film that won’t be too scary. Yet Insidious uses that to its advantage. It favors atmosphere instead of gore, leaving the audience on edge of what is not shown is as scary as what is.

The PG-13 rating meant it was accessible to young horror fans who may not have been able to go see an R-rated film in theaters. A PG-13 horror film could be seen by a wider audience, and the scares the movie had likely left a major impact on audiences making the movie a classic. The scares that a child or young person sees in a movie leave a profound impact on their love for horror films. Everyone remembers the first movie that truly scared them, and Insidious likely was one for an entire generation and will be cited as a landmark horror film for fans in the future.

In marrying fiction with the existential dread of reality, Insidious cements itself as a modern horror classic, one that continues to thrive to this day and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

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