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The Entire Insidious Timeline Explained

If you watched all of the "Insidious" movies and you're confused about the timeline, you're not alone. One tactic that might help is viewing the series chronologically rather than going by release dates. Outside of some flashback sequences, the general timeline of the films goes like this: "Insidious: Chapter 3," "Insidious: The Last Key," "Insidious," "Insidious: Chapter 2," and "Insidious: The Red Door." If you've done that and still can't suss out the order of events, have no fear: We've got you. 

The "Insidious" franchise revolves around a psychic named Elise (Lin Shaye) and a child-turned-adult named Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his family. The first two films that were released focus on the Lambert family and the entity that haunted Josh as a child. But naturally, Josh's childhood nemesis always comes back for more destruction. Of course, Josh's son Dalton shares his father's dream walking gift, and the young boy has an entity of his own to contend with. 

Alternatively, the third and fourth chapters are prequels that center around Elise, her childhood, her own history with Josh's ghost, and two cases she took on before helping Dalton. The fifth movie takes fans back to the Lambert family, with a significant time jump. The original film debuted in 2010, after all. So, if your general reaction after watching the "Insidious" franchise was "Huh?" — here's the entire timeline explained. 

The history of the Bride in Black

So, who the heck is this Bride in Black lady, anyway? Well, as it turns out, the notorious serial killer isn't a lady at all. Parker Crane seemed like any other little boy in the early 1900s — until his mother began calling him Marilyn and forced him into dresses to become the daughter she never had. Mommy dearest clearly held a grudge against Parker's father and likely resented men as a whole because of it. So, she forced her son to become a girl against his will. That would traumatize any kid.

Parker's mother's hold on him lasted well into adulthood (and even death). As a result, the once-abused child went on to kill at least 15 women. He kept the bodies of the women, who were likely stand-ins for his mother, shrouded in a hidden room in his childhood home. Yikes. Audiences were haunted by the smell, even though we never actually witnessed it ourselves.

We only know of one survivor, who detailed the killer's disguise of a black wedding gown and veil. Precise timelines aren't abundantly clear, but given the information we do know, it's likely that Parker was born around 1916, was forced into the role of Marilyn about eight years later, and became a serial killer sometime in adulthood (if only those newspapers by the dead bodies had a date). Talk about a horrific origin story.

Elise's fractured childhood

You'd never know it from her warm and empathetic demeanor, but our resident psychic guru Elise didn't exactly have a peachy childhood, either. Yet, unlike Parker, Elise didn't let her parent's demons become her own. We don't have exact timetables for Elise's age, either, but context clues in "The Last Key" tell us that she was a little girl in the 1950s.

Given that her family lived in a very haunted house by the prison where her father Gerald worked, Elise's gift to speak to the dead began early — and her father didn't like it. Between spirits and demons, Elise had trouble pinpointing the evil from the benevolent. One of Gerald's favorite past times involved locking her in the terrifying basement when she refused to hide her gift. Eerily enough, one of the entities in question was the red and black demon that would later haunt Dalton.

Demons feed on anger and fear, so it wasn't exactly difficult for the demon to con Elise into opening a red door, unleashing an evil that immediately killed her mother — leaving her and her brother alone at the hands of their monstrous father. It's unclear when their father started kidnapping and killing young women, but the entities in the house clearly exacerbated Gerald's own demons.

Years later, when Elise was 16, her father gaslit her into thinking that one of his victims was a ghost, causing her to leave behind her brother when she fled home, hoping to escape the father who insisted that no one could ever love her. Ouch.

Elise helps young Josh

Parker is all grown up and on his deathbed in the late '80s, but he's not quite done torturing the living just yet. As it turns out, Josh's mother, Lorraine, is a nurse, and she sometimes takes her son to the hospital. Both she and her son believe the old man is alive when he attacks Josh, but he's actually been dead for several days, and is likely trying to get into Josh's body.

It's safe to say that Parker didn't have much of a childhood. And in death, he wants another shot at his life. So, he begins haunting Josh in his Bride in Black disguise, inching closer and closer to the boy with every photograph his mother takes. As Josh dives deeper into the Further — a purgatory of sorts — Parker gets that much closer to taking over the young boy.

Shortly after, in 1986, Lorraine calls up Elise, who gives her usual spiel about Josh having astral projection powers. Instead of teaching him how to safely manage this "gift," she hypnotizes away his memory of it. Of course, that choice allows his own son to get overtaken by the affliction decades later. This particular method of handling Josh's powers doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given that he didn't understand them even when he was astral projecting. Getting hypnotized to repress something doesn't stop it from existing, so it's unclear how this was supposed to prevent Josh from getting haunted by Parker, or stop Josh from traveling in his dreams.

Elise retires (for a minute)

It seems like every aspect of Elise's life is under a black cloud, because her husband dies by suicide before the events of the third movie. In a desperate attempt to see him one last time, she ventures into the Further, where she meets Parker's charming spirit. Elise doesn't know his identity yet, but the Bride in Black promises to kill her someday. Elise isn't one to cower in the wake of a threat, but something about Parker really freaks her out. Which is understandable — the Bride in Black is pretty ghoulish.

With Elise's grief on top of the hopelessness of constantly getting haunted by evil entities, the now 70ish-year-old woman has had enough. She's adamant about staying retired, even when a grief-stricken teenager seeks Elise's help speaking to her deceased mother. Little do they know that it's not her mom doing the haunting.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Elise helps a haunted Quinn

As hard as she tries, Elise is physically incapable of turning her back on someone who needs her. Quinn's nasty ghost has waged a full-on war against the young girl, and she's on the brink of death. Between the ghost trying to throw her out a window and injuring every part of her body, Quinn is in mortal peril, and Elise knows it.

Except now, Elise has to share the spotlight with a goofy fake ghost-hunting crew called Spectral Sightings. With the help of Spec's notetaking and Tucker's tech, Elise works with them to take down the spirit of an evil man that lived in Quinn's building.

He doesn't go without a fight, though. Quinn's soul is trapped between the human world and the Further, allowing the evil entity to take over Quinn's body. Well, at least he heals the many broken bones he caused. Naturally, this means that Elise has to fight through her fear of seeing Parker's ghost in the Further to get Quinn's soul back in one piece. Unfortunately for Parker, he has to fulfill his deadly promise to Elise some other time. The film ends with Quinn back in her own body and seeing her mother's benevolent spirit for one last goodbye. For whatever reason, Elise is charmed by the ghost-hunting con artists, offering to go into business with him. Which we guess is understandable: Taking on the spirit world as a 70-year-old requires some assistance.

Elise comes home

There's no place like home — unless it's haunted by the memories of a painful childhood and, you know, actual ghosts. In "Insidious: The Last Key," Elise has a flashback dream, which is the first glimpse fans have of her childhood. Elise's backstory is interwoven throughout the film, toggling back and forth between past and present. But no one can outrun their past, not even Elise. The psychic gets a call from the very freaked-out new owner of her old house, and after speaking with her Spectral Sightings sidekicks, she decides to confront her trauma head-on.

After she assesses the situation, Elise reconnects with the brother she left in the dust when she ran away from home. He's not exactly thrilled to see her, but she leaves him a picture of the whistle that his mom gave him so that he can contact her if he's in trouble. Meanwhile, Elise communicates with a frightened ghost who leads her to a chained-up young woman hidden in the basement, courtesy of the home's new owner. But Elise isn't the only Rainier trying to make peace with her past. Elise's brother drags his daughters back to the house to find his whistle, which leads to Melissa's hospitalization, leaving her body at risk for supernatural habitation.

Naturally, Elise wants answers. With the help of the terrified ghost, Elise realizes that her father was a serial killer and had suitcases with the skulls of his victims hidden in a crawlspace. She's even more horrified when she uncovers the fact that the scared ghost Elise saw in the laundry room as a teenager wasn't a ghost at all, and she might have been able to save her.

The next generation of psychics

It's not abundantly clear if Elise's father is the one who influenced the new homeowner to kidnap the nurse, or if the demon influenced both troubled men. But given the fact that Elise, her mom, and her brother didn't become immoral and murderous while living in the house, both men had to have had a significant amount of darkness that the demons and spirits could latch onto.

The demon takes that opportunity to launch out of one of the suitcases in the scariest moment of the franchise, successfully dragging Elise into the Further. Once she realizes that the demon feeds off her anger toward her father, she's able to fight him off, only to call on her mom's spirit with the help of the whistle. Elise may be around 70 at this point, but you're never too old to need your mom — especially if you feel responsible for her death. Elise finally gets closure when she sees that her mom is at peace, and the two tag-team the demon.

Three generations of women unite to bury the past: Elise's mom, Elise herself, and Charlie's daughters, Melissa and Imogen. As it turns out, Imogen also has the gift, so Elise's legacy will carry on into the next generation. After one hell of a trip down memory lane (literally), Elise makes amends with Charlie. But that's not the end of this story.

Dalton goes into the Further

Josh is all grown up with a family of his own, but as we've seen before, supernatural gifts tend to run in families. Elise's choice to make Josh forget his astral projection gift prevents him from clocking the signs with his son. After a nasty fall in the attic, Josh's son Dalton winds up in a coma — which is anything but medical. Josh's wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), is at her wits' end when she thinks the house is haunted. Between seeing mysterious entities and objects moving around on their own, Renai is ready to bail on her new house.

Things come to a head when she hears a creepy voice on the baby monitor and fears that something wants to take her daughter Cali. Well, she's not wrong. Josh is skeptical until that night when alarms begin going off, and they see a figure by the baby's window. In a well-executed twist, Josh is actually the one making all of that ruckus. Time in the Further works differently, and we learn in "Insidious: Chapter 2" that Josh's Further-trapped spirit is the one to fight with the entity that wants his daughter's soul. As a result, he pushes the spirit out of the window. Cue "The Time Warp."

In a rare move for horror movie families, the Lamberts pack up and get the hell out of dodge. But the hauntings continue. It's not the house that's haunted. It's Dalton. (Cue dramatic sting.)

Fulfilling a deadly promise

At the end of "Insidious: The Last Key," we learn that Elise has a dream about Dalton falling off a ladder and getting sucked into the Further. She startles awake right before Lorraine calls to ask for help. And that brings us to her return to the Lambert family's aid. While Josh thinks she's off her rocker at first, seeing Dalton's drawings match up with her claims gets him on board to rescue his son from the Further. Josh finally remembers why he hates getting photographed, as his photos offered tangible evidence that he was haunted by the Bride in Black.

The stressed dad struggles to retrieve Dalton from the Further, and the red demon that Elise saw in her house as a child finally gets his grip on the boy. Eventually, Josh grabs Dalton and saves him from the Further, but his own fate is much darker.

Parker finally accomplishes his goal to take over Josh's body, as his mother's spirit (or at least the memory of it) goads him into reclaiming his serial killer status. Elise immediately knows something is wrong, and Josh's body is completely overtaken by the Bride in Black when Elise snaps a picture. Well, Josh isn't Josh anymore. But he still doesn't like photos. Parker finally makes good on his promise to kill Elise, strangling her while acting as the puppet master of Josh's body. Meanwhile, Josh's soul is held prisoner in the Further.

New dad, who dis?

When a cop asks you to explain the death of a psychic, it's probably best not to tell them that your son was kidnapped by demons in another reality, and a ghost killed the nice old lady in the morgue. Apparently, Renai didn't get that memo. On top of completely ignoring the fact that her husband is very much not acting like himself, Renai makes more than a few bad choices in the second film.

Meanwhile, much of "Insidious: Chapter 2" revolves around the group's efforts to uncover the history of the Bride in Black to understand what's going on with Josh. Specs and Tucker enlist the help of Karl, another psychic who helped Elise with Josh's predicament back in the '80s. As a group, they put the pieces of Parker's life together. So, how many people does it take to figure out that Josh is actually the Bride in Black? Too many.

Of course, an "Insidious" movie wouldn't feel right without an Elise cameo. Her spirit shows up to help Josh protect Cali in the past and figure out the key to defeating Parker. The time component of the Further continues to be unpredictable when an adult Josh visits his younger self during his stint in the Further. Little Josh shows Big Josh the door to the Bride in Black's memories. Apparently, that's the key to defeating Parker. After an epic showdown, Josh and Elise destroy both Parker's memory and his mother's spirit, so he can finally get back to his family.

Mending a broken family (for now)

The events of the second movie come full circle when Dalton goes back to the Further to retrieve his dad's spirit — paralleling his father saving him in the previous film. Time is running out, but both of the Lamberts manage to make it back to their bodies. The family is reunited, and Josh finally convinces Renai that it's really him. But this is a horror franchise, after all. The main characters have to make the same mistake twice to keep the horror coming. 

For some reason, Dalton and Josh decide to get hypnotized to forget the spirit world (again) — because that worked so well the first time. Karl is there to get the job done, but at least the Lambert women get to keep their memories intact in case it happens again (of course it's going to happen again). 

Apparently, Tucker and Specs aren't quite done with ghost hunting, even though neither of them possesses any kind of supernatural ability. Though they don't know it, when the ghost hunters take their next case involving a young girl with the psychic gift, Elise is there in spirit form. Naturally, the film leaves off with something terrifying Elise's spirit. It would seem not all is well in Whoville.

The Lamberts grow apart

"The Red Door" may be a direct sequel to "Insidious 2," but it doesn't exactly pick up right where that movie left off. Instead, the movie jumps forward in time 10 years and introduces a Lambert family that looks very different than they did a decade ago. Dalton is an adult getting ready to head off to college, Josh and Renai have divorced, and Josh's mother Lorraine has passed away.

As the movie gets going, the Lamberts are all at some of their lowest points. As if the divorce weren't bad enough, Josh and Dalton have grown distant from each other, and neither of them has the memories that would explain exactly what's happened to their family. Without those memories, Dalton is completely unprepared when The Further slips back into his life.

It starts with Dalton painting the red door in his art class. He still can't remember why that image is in his mind, but as it resurfaces, demonic energy follows. Dalton starts to realize that he can astral project himself into The Further, though he doesn't know what it is. He starts playing around with his psychic powers, completely unaware that he's inviting more evil into his life. Eventually, a phone call from his brother reminds Dalton of the time their father attacked them. Dalton doesn't realize that Josh was possessed at the time, but once the memory is sparked, he gets pulled into the demon's home in The Further.

Sealing the Red Door for good

While Dalton is at college unlocking his memories through painting, Josh is desperately trying to piece his own life back together. Ever since erasing his memories at the end of "Insidious 2," Josh has lived in a constant state of mental fog. That's a big part of why he's been distant from Dalton all these years. On his own time, Josh tries to remember what happened, but it isn't until Dalton paints the red door that Josh starts seeing signs of The Further appearing in his own life.

Josh's search leads him to uncover his father's tragic past, but since he still can't recover his own lost memories, he goes to Renai for help. She breaks down and basically explains the events of the first two "Insidious" movies to him. Renai didn't have her mind wiped, and trying to live with Josh while still having those painful memories is what ultimately eroded their marriage.

Now that he knows the truth, Josh realizes that Dalton is in extreme danger. In The Further, the demon has possessed Dalton's body, so Josh astral projects himself into the spirit realm in order to save his son. The demon chases Josh and Dalton as they run through the Red Door, and then Dalton seals the demon in its room by painting over the door. Josh and Dalton escape, and it looks like the Lamberts might be able to get their lives back on track. But a flickering light above the red door tells us that this story might not be over yet.