Very few modern horror series have made their mark as noticeable as director James Wan’s Insidious series. Defined by a rich mythos, memorable characters, and great scares, the Insidious films have always had a strong following of fans. Despite only sporting three – soon to be four – films, the Insidious series has a rather complex timeline. It also doesn’t help that the third and fourth film take place before the original two, yet feature some of the same characters through all of the movies.
Keep in mind we are not going into extreme detail for each film and will pass by some of the moments that don’t have a larger impact on the story. Here’s a complete recap of the last three Insidious films and where The Last Key fits into the overall timeline.
There is also a TL;DR section at the bottom for those who don’t want a more in-depth look at the story.
Insidious follows the story of the Lambert family who are haunted by a collection of malevolent entities and a powerful demon. The family consists of school teacher Josh, musician Renai, their oldest son Dalton, his younger brother Foster, and baby Cali. Our story opens with the Lambert family moving into a new home and Renai explaining to Dalton that Josh doesn’t like having his photo taken because he’s shy. Later, Dalton investigates some eerie sounds coming from the attic. However, the ladder going up breaks and causes Dalton to fall to the floor. Dalton’s family rushes to his aid, but everything appears to be fine with the boy.
The next day Josh goes to wake up his son, only to discover that he is alive but in a comatose state. Insidious‘ story then jumps three months into the future and the Lambert family has set up a medical room to monitor Dalton. Eventually, Renai experiences supernatural events such as a being screamed at through a baby monitor, a bloody handprint on Dalton’s sheet, and a black-haired spirit stalking her. All of this eventually becomes too much for Renai and she demands that the family moves to a new house.
Josh agrees and the movie jumps an undisclosed amount of time where we see the Lamberts unpacking in their new home. The viewers are also introduced to Josh’s mother Lorraine, who is seen helping the family get settled. However, the hauntings continue once again with Renai spotting an unknown young boy dancing and running around her home. Lorraine then sits down with the family and tells the Lamberts that she had a dream about a red-faced demon that explained it wants Dalton. Realizing that this isn’t going to stop, Lorraine suggests bringing in an expert, Elise Reiner, that she trusts to handle this issue.
This woman arrives after her assistants – Specs and Tucker – survey the house to determine if the Lamberts have been telling the truth. Elise heads into Dalton’s room where she describes the red-faced demon to Specs who is drawing her vision. She then explains to the family that Dalton is capable of astral projection, which means he can leave his body and explore another realm of existence called “The Further.” While Dalton has visited this place many times before, he was led astray by the demon and became lost. Now, with his body unoccupied both the demon and malevolent spirits seek to take control of his physical shell.
A seance is conducted that ends with the spirits attacking and the demon briefly caught on tape by Tucker. The family and Elise go back downstairs and reveal that Josh can actually astral-project like Dalton. It turns out that Josh was haunted by a vicious spirit that took the form of an old woman in a black bridal gown when he was a child. The ghost would appear closer in photographs taken of Josh, which explains why he is uncomfortable being in pictures as an adult. Elise was able to temporarily banish the spirit and wiped Josh’s memory so he couldn’t astral project.
Because this ability is still within Josh, he decides to meditate and venture out into The Further in search of Dalton. After some time Josh finds his son locked in a room with the demon and frees him from his shackles. The demon chases Josh and Dalton back to The Further version of their home, guided by the voice of Renai pleading for the duo to come back. Right before they escape, Josh is confronted by the spirit of the old woman and tells her that he’s no longer afraid of her. She laughs and vanishes just both Josh and Dalton wake up from their sleep. The family is reunited and Dalton is finally safe from the red-faced demon.
However, Elise feels that something is wrong with Josh and takes his photo which sends him into a rage. Josh chokes and kills Elise while everyone is distracted, leaving no evidence that he was the one to murder her. Renai discovers the body and photo where it’s revealed to the audience that the old woman was captured in the photo where Josh was standing. This means that Josh didn’t vanquish his own spirit and she took possession of his body. The movie ends with “Josh” standing behind Renai and her gasping.
Insidious: Chapter II
Insidious: Chapter II takes place all across the timeline for the Insidious series so it can be a bit tricky to follow right away. The film opens in 1986 when a young Elise arrives at the Lambert home to help a young Josh deal with the spirit of an old woman that is haunting him. She is successful, but we do see Josh talking to what appears to be no-one on camera. Jumping forward in time, Renai explains to the police how Elise died. No one believes that it was the work of a ghost and leave the case open since there is no evidence that pins Josh as the perpetrator. While Renai heavily suspects that Josh is possessed by the spirit of the old woman, she has no proof outside of the photo found at the end of the first Insidious.
The next day Renai is attacked by the spirit of a woman in a white dress, who knocks her unconscious on the floor. Meanwhile, Lorraine visits Specs and Tucker to discuss what happened to Elise which leads to them watching a tape of younger Josh’s seance. It’s then revealed that when the contrast of the footage is raised, younger Josh was actually speaking to our present-day version of Josh. Another paranormal expert, Carl, is called in and they attempt to contact the spirit of Elise. They succeed and she tells them to go to the “Our Lady of Angels” hospital which is where Lorraine used to work. Naturally, the group goes to the hospital and encounter a plethora of different supernatural occurrences.
Before they leave, the trio finds out that the old woman was actually a mentally deranged man called Parker Crane. He would take the form of a bride in a black wedding outfit and murdered 15 different people when he was alive. They also discover that the spirit they were communicating with was not actually Elise, but Parker’s mother. Renai eventually awakens and speaks with Lorraine who explains the theory that Parker Crane has taken possession of Josh’s body. Tucker, Specs, and Carl attempt to drug Josh but the plan fails and Josh renders everyone unconscious.
Here’s where things get a bit more complicated. We cut to The Further and learn that the real Josh has been trapped there ever since the end of the first Insidious. Carl – who assumes he is dead – meets up with Josh and the two go looking for Elise. Eventually, they stumble upon The Further’s version of the Lambert’s first house in the original Insidious. It’s never outwardly explained, but time plays out differently in this realm and Josh’s actions in The Further directly affected some of the events in the first movie. This plays out as Chapter 2’s Josh kicks open the door that sets off the house alarm that was originally assumed to be the work of a spirit in Insidious. Josh gets into a fight with a spirit from the first Insidious but is saved by Elise who came to help them.
Renai and Lorraine return to their home and are attacked by the Parker Crane possessed Josh. Lorraine is locked in a closet and Renai is almost killed. Saved by her children, she rushes to the basement and locks herself there so Crane can’t reach her. In The Further, Josh Elise, and Carl go visit the younger version of Josh back in 1986 and speak to him. This mimics the footage we see earlier in the film and explains why older Josh was captured on video during younger Josh’s seance. Young Josh leads them to where they need to go and the group discovers the home of Parker Crane. Here it’s revealed that Crane’s mother was abusive and forced him to dress and act like a girl. Crane’s mother spots the group and lets out a screech that separates them.
In normal reality, Crane uses a fire extinguisher and attempts to break down the basement doors to get to Renai and her children. Dalton decides to go into The Further to help save his father and Specs wakes up. Speces goes and saves Lorraine in the closet just as Parker breaks through the door. Back in The Further Josh fights with Crane’s mother, who is eventually killed by Elise. This causes Crane to leave Josh’s body, Dalton to wake up, and Carl (who wasn’t actually dead) to come back. The family is reunited with Josh and Dalton’s memory of The Further is wiped by Carl the next day. Specs and Tucker continue investigating spirits with the help of Elise from The Further. Insidious: Chapter 2 ends with Elise speaking with a young girl, but stopping when she hears an odd creaking noise in the background. Staring into the darkness, Elise’s eyes go wide and she says “Oh my god” before the movie cuts to the credits.
Insidious: Chapter 3
Unlike the previous two Insidious films, this movie actually focuses on Elise before the events around the Lambert family. The film opens with a teenage girl named Quinn Brenner visiting a now retired Elise at her home in hopes of connecting with her deceased mother, Lilith. Elise reluctantly agrees, but during the reading, she feels a malicious spirit and warns Quinn to never contact her mother again. We cut to the Brenner’s home with her father Sean getting ready for work, little brother Alex watching television, and Quinn practicing her lines for an audition. Quinn leaves with her brother and meets up with her friend before heading to an audition.
After bombing her audition, Quinn ends up getting hit by a car and is rushed to the hospital. Right before she awakens, Quinn sees a malicious demon that will end up haunting her for the rest of the film. Once she is back home – now in a wheelchair – the demon continues to haunt Quinn, growing increasingly more violent as the days progress. Meanwhile, Elise reluctantly agrees to help Quinn and when contacting the Lilith comes face to face with the demon. Quinn is attacked by the demon two more times with the first event ending with the teenage girl put in a neck brace.
Her second encounter has the demon take the form of Lilith and almost pull her from her apartment window. Thankfully, Quinn’s dad witnesses the second attack and reaches out to Elise who agrees to help them. However, Elise explains that she is being hunted by another demon which is the reason Elise was originally retired. She believes that in helping Quinn this other demon will catch and eventually kill her.
A seance is then held where Elise goes venturing into The Further so she can confront the demon. However, she is attacked in this realm by nonother than the bride in black demon (Parker Crane) and almost killed. Elise goes Carl for help and explains that the bride demon promised to kill her after she stopped the possession of younger Josh in 1986. Back at the home, Specs and Tucker are hired to hunt for the demon by Sean. This ends with Quinn becoming completely possessed by the demon and being knocked out before she can kill herself. Elise arrives after this, hires Specs and Tucker, and performs another seance/exorcism to save Quinn.
Elise goes back into The Further and is attacked by the bride in black once more, but this time she defeats her. The demon is eventually discovered along with Quinn and Elise does battle to rescue her. However, the demon gains the upper hand, but thanks to Quinn’s deceased mother she is able to defeat the being. Quinn is saved and Elise decides to come out of retirement alongside Tucker and Specs. Insidious: Chapter 3 ends with Elise being visited by the red-faced demon from the first Insidious movie.
So where does Insidious: The Last Key fit?
The newest entry in the Insidious series actually takes place between the events of Insidious: Chapter 3 and Insidious: Chapter 2. This is still a prequel to the first two films and will revolve around Elise trying to save someone who moved into her old home. There is a chance that both the red-faced demon and the bride in black might show up since neither has been defeated yet. Also, since The Further manipulates time we could easily see this film tie into the other three movies.
(Author’s Note: This section will go in the chronological order of the events, not the films themselves.)
- In 1986 a paranormal expert named Elise joins her friend Carl and saves a boy, Josh Lambert, from being possessed by the bride in black spirit.
- Elise wipes Josh’s memory of the bride in black and his ability to go into an astral plane called “The Further.”
- The bride in black spirit begins to stalk Elise.
- Elise goes into retirement and fears the bride will kill her if she returns to this line of work.
- An undisclosed amount of time passes.
- Teenager Quinn Brenner reaches out to Elise for help reaching her deceased mother.
- Quinn becomes haunted by a demon taking the form of a withered old man.
- Elise reluctantly comes out of retirement and is attacked by the bride in black.
- Elise goes to Carl for help, Specs and Tucker are hired by Quinn’s family.
- Quinn becomes possessed and Elise returns to save her from the demon.
- Specs and Tucker agree to help Elise and they save Quinn.
- Elise, Specs, and Tucker begin working together.
- Elise is visited by a red-faced demon in her home.
- Insidious: The Last Key takes place.
- Now full grown, Josh Lambert and his family are haunted by the red-faced demon.
- His oldest son Dalton is the new target of this being.
- Elise, Specs, and Tucker are eventually brought in to vanquish this creature by Josh’s mother Lorraine.
- Josh learns about the bride in black from Elise and Lorraine.
- Eventually, Josh goes into The Further to rescue Dalton.
- He succeeds but is confronted by the bride in black before he leaves with his son.
- Both awaken, but Josh is actually possessed by the bride in black and kills Elise – fulfilling his promise made in 1986.
- Josh becomes increasingly more unstable and violent due to being possessed.
- Tucker, Specs Lorraine, and Carl uncover that the bride in black is actually a serial killer named Parker Crane.
- Josh’s wife, Renai, is tormented by the spirit of Crane’s deceased mother.
- Lorraine explains to Renai what happened to Josh and who the bride in black really is.
- Josh (aka Parker Crane) is attacked by Tucker, Specs, and Carl but he knocks them all out.
- The real Josh has been trapped in The Further.
- Carl and Josh venture out and discover the spirit of Elise who agrees to help them.
- We learn that time plays out differently in The Further and some events in Insidious: Chapter 2 directly cause events in the previous film, Insidious.
- Crane and his mother are both defeated by Elise.
- Josh and his son Dalton have their memories wiped for good of these events.
- Specs and Tucker continue hunting ghosts with the help of Elise’s spirit.
- The series ends with Elise staring up in horror at an unknown entity in the dark.