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Franchise Formula: ‘Insidious’

Adrift in a sea of blander PG-13 horror films, the Insidious franchise from Saw creators James Wan and Leigh Whannell deserves a little more attention. The movies have done well enough at the box office to warrant an upcoming fourth “Chapter.” But when Blumhouse can make these movies with such paltry budgets, it takes considerably less box office action for the films to turn a profit. Look past the box office, however, and you’ll see a PG-13 horror franchise with potential. So, as the franchise grows, what will it take to retain the visual flair, unique mythology, and creepy essence of Insidious?

A Family

insidious family by candlelight

Each Insidious chapter is a family story. The first two chapters focused on the Lamberts, a well cast nuclear family. The third chapter, a prequel, focuses on the Brenners. At this point, a family seems like part of the formula. But an Insidious movie doesn’t have to be a family story, so this is part of the formula I think they could lose to keep things fresh.

A Medium

Lin Shaye’s Elise has been the franchise’s spiritual medium. The character will feature prominently in 2017’s Insidious: Chapter 4, but her future with the Insidious franchise is uncertain. Why? The end of the first movie ought to tell you that. Can she continue to be a lead if the series will explore the canon beyond Chapter 2? Whatever the case may be, a medium who can travel into the spirit world is an absolute must for these movies.

The Further

insidious-elise-further

Without the inclusion of this dark, minimally decorated spirit realm, I fear these movies will lose what makes them so unique. And now that we know The Further bends space and time, it’s even more dangerous and alluring. But perhaps The Further is just one realm of many. What happens when the franchise expands its scope?

A Big Bad Spirit

The Lipstick-Face Demon. The Bride in Black. The Man Who Can’t Breathe. Each chapter’s main villain sports a memorably disturbing look, so the franchise needs to keep this up. And they need to keep the designs relatively simple without going too far into traditionally demonic territory. What has to change, however, is the motivations of these villains. They can’t all want to steal souls. Then again, a future installment in the series could easily have a living antagonist instead.

Strong Female Leads

rose byrne as Renai Lambert checking out something strange in her house in Insidious

Lin Shaye, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, and Stefanie Scott have all done good work anchoring this franchise. Lin Shaye’s Elise has become the de facto protagonist of the series, evolving into a real heroine in Chapter 3. I see no reason why future movies shouldn’t keep this trend going.

These little Insidious films are, for the most part, sly little shockers with a unique approach. If Insidious: Chapter 4 stays true to the formula, it’ll feel a lot like the previous three films. But above adhering to any formula, the greater goal is to make a good movie. So far, the Insidious franchise has accomplished that goal twice. Let’s hope Chapter 4, directed by Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan) will be another good installment when it arrives next October.


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