(Note: This post contains spoilers for “Insidious,” “Insidious: Chapter 2” and “Insidious: Chapter 3.”)
The release of the newest movie in the “Insidious” franchise, “Insidious: The Last Key” might be a little bit confusing for viewers who haven’t been paying close attention to the series’ lore and chronology. That’s because while this is the fourth movie to be released, in the timeline of the four movies, it actually takes place second. It’s a sequel to “Insidious: Chapter 3,” but a prequel to the original “Insidious.”
Following the chronology of the “Insidious” movies can be a bit tough thanks to all the flashbacks and prequeling the movies are doing. So here’s a quick rundown of the “Insidious” films’ stories, and everything that happens, in chronological order, as well as an explanation of its ghostly concepts.
First mentioned in “Insidious” and shown in flashbacks in “Insidious: Chapter 2,” 1986 is when Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) first met Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson). Elise is a medium who can communicate with spirits and helps people who are the victims of hauntings. When Josh was a child in the 1980s, he had the ability to astral project his spirit out of his body during his dreams. In doing so, Josh visited the Further, the spirit realm where ghosts reside, and he accidentally brought one back with him — a ghost known as the Bride in Black. The ghost was haunting Josh and was trying to take over his body to steal his life, and could only be seen in photographs.
Elise, who also has the ability to project herself into the Further, forced the Bride to retreat into the Further and saved Josh with the help of her friend, another medium named Carl (Hank Harris). The pair and Josh’s mother, Lorraine, decided to take away Josh’s memories of the Further and astral projection with hypnosis. As a result, Josh stopped projecting because he stopped realizing he was able to.
“Insidious: Chapter 3”
A few years before Elise would help Josh Lambert and his family in “Insidious” (so around 20 years after the flashback above), she had a crisis as a ghost hunter and gave up that work. Ghost hunting was taking a lot of out Elise and she was convinced the work was going to kill her because of all the malevolent spirits she was dealing with.
Meanwhile, a young girl named Quinn Brenner finds herself haunted by the creepy ghost of an old man in an oxygen mask. Her father, Sean Brenner (Dermot Mulroney), reaches out to Elise for help, and Elise explains how she saw her own death in the Further. After her husband killed himself, Elise went to the Further to find him. But Elise was followed back by the Bride in Black, still angry that Elise foiled her plans back in 1986. Elise could hear the Bride’s threats in her head, and became convinced the Bride really would kill her if she kept up hunting ghosts and visiting the spirit world. This turned out to be prophetic, in fact.
The Brenners hire Tucker and Specs (Angus Sampson and Leigh Whannell), a pair of internet ghost hunters who claim to be able to clear hauntings, to try to help Quinn. When the pair encounter a real ghost, they admit to being frauds. Elise eventually finds she can’t ignore Quinn’s plight and returns to help her. She goes to the Further to guide Quinn back from the spirit realm and encounters the Bride, but defeats her — living people are stronger than ghosts, and Elise is able to overpower the Bride and send her retreating into the Further. Elise saves Quinn, and Tucker and Specs wind up becoming her assistants in dealing with hauntings.
“Insidious: The Last Key”
Taking place somewhere between “Insidious: Chapter 3” and “Insidious,” “The Last Key” is all about Elise. This time, she finds the ghosts haunting her own family.
Josh Lambert, now an adult with a family of his own, finds his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) has slipped into a coma and can’t be awoken. Doctors can’t find a medical reason for what happened, and meanwhile, the family finds itself experiencing a haunting. Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) remembers what happened to Josh and has an inkling that the same thing is happening to Dalton. She contacts Elise, who reveals that Dalton, like Josh, is able to astrally project himself into the Further, and he’s gotten trapped there. Spirits are trying to use his vacant body to come into the living world, including a creepy red-faced demon.
Elise tells Josh about his past with the Bride in Black, who basically tried to do the same thing to Josh as is being done to Dalton: trap him in the Further and take over his body. With Elise’s help, Josh ventures into the Further to find Dalton and rescue him, dealing with ghosts and spirits along the way. They manage to kick the demon back into the Further and bring Dalton back to his body, but in the final moments of the movie, it’s revealed that the spirit that came back to Josh’s body wasn’t Josh — he’s still in the Further.
Instead, the Bride in Black managed to get into Josh’s body. Now possessed by the Bride, Josh strangles Elise and kills her, fulfilling the Bride’s prophecy of Elise’s death.
“Insidious: Chapter 2”
Picking up right after the end of “Insidious,” “Chapter 2” finds the Lamberts still haunted. The police investigate Elise’s death, but eventually clear Josh because the fingerprints found around the crime aren’t his. Meanwhile, though, his family is still dealing with hauntings. At Elise’s house, Specs and Tucker discover a video of Elise’s 1986 work in helping young Josh, and on the video see an image of adult Josh.
After talking to Lorraine, Specs and Tucker contact Carl (Steve Coulter) for help. Carl attempts to contact Elise in the Further and gets a clue as to what’s happening. Specs, Tucker and Carl find out that the Bride in Black is actually a serial killer named Parker Crane, who killed himself in the hospital where Lorraine worked. Carl tries to drug Josh, realizing he’s possessed by Crane, so Crane can’t hurt Josh’s family. But Josh overpowers Carl and starts to strangle him.
That tosses Carl into the Further, where he runs into the real Josh, and they head into the Further and find Elise, while visiting a few locations from past movies. Time doesn’t flow the same way in the Further as in the real world, which causes Josh to show up on the 1986 video tape. In the real world, the family hides out in the basement while Josh tries to kill them, and Dalton decides to go to the Further to try to find his dad. Meanwhile, Josh, Carl and Elise go to Crane’s house and find him being abused by his mother, which is the reason he became a killer. Elise defeats Crane’s mother and Dalton shows up to lead Carl and Josh back to the real world.
The Bride in Black is tossed out of Josh’s body, Josh and Carl survive, and Carl hypnotizes Josh and Dalton to make them forget about their astral projection abilities.
The movie ends with Specs and Tucker going out on more ghost-hunting calls, still aided by the ghostly Elise — suggesting that eventually, there could be more “Insidious” stories picking up further in the timeline and that while Elise might have died, she’s definitely not done saving people from hauntings.