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A Filmmaker's Guide to the Horror Techniques Used in 'Insidious: Chapter 2'

Study, Experience, and Analysis

(Note: this article uses analysis from the film Insidious: Chapter 2 and in order to get the best insight from the article, it is recommended that you watch the whole film at least once). 

Insidious: Chapter 2 is one of the greatest horror films post-2010 and it builds on the Insidious franchise. Obviously, we're going to leave out the opinions of whether it is better or worse than the first one and get straight into talking about how Insidious: Chapter 2 presents horror to us whilst also giving us a built-on storyline to work with and watch. Let's have a look at our themes: 

  • Haunting 
  • Light and Dark
  • Colour Schemes 

Let's get on with the film analysis.

Haunting

We covered the theme of haunting in the analysis on the first instalment of the Insidious franchise, but in Chapter 2 it is used a little bit differently. Notice how in the first one, Elise seems to know what has got the son in the other realm, but this time there is an uncertainty. It is this uncertainty that powers this haunting along. The appearance of the lady dressed in white on the sofa, making her way upstairs, and then attaching herself to the baby is probably the best example of this. 

Frame

Look at the style of the frame. The very appearance of the woman seems a bit distressing as if nobody seems to know why she is supposed to be there. As much as the mother may be distressed about this, so is the ghost. It isn't like the first one in which the red-faced man who looks like Darth Maul is trying to taunt them by appearing in random places. Instead, this is a woman who is trying to achieve something without being seen. It makes for good ambiguity and a nice change to the usual expectations of the Insidious film. 

If you wanted to do this in your own film then you first need to establish reason. The first instalment to the franchise establishes this reason. We already know that the child is haunted and so it makes sense for a random woman dressed in white looking absolutely terrifying to appear in front of him. If you did this without context it not only wouldn't make sense, but it would fail to have the correct impact. Think of this haunting as building on something that has already been established rather than a haunting establishing its own story. 

Light and Dark

Light and Dark are immensely important to the Insidious franchise and I would say that they are slightly more explored in the second film than they are in the very dark first instalment. The theme of light and dark is normally explored as the light within the darkness in order to give the audience a taste of the events without giving everything away at once. Insidious: Chapter 2 does this incredibly. Let's have a look at the frame in order to explore this further:

Frame

There's the blueish tint that we're very familiar with by now. It's a method that was used in The Exorcist in order to heighten the darkness. The blueish tint gives an almost ominous light to the frame and makes everything seem scarier because we already know it's in the dark. The only light within the scene, however, is coming from the window that is slightly to the right of the frame and at the back. This adds depth to the scene and allows the audience to see the faded image of what could be many ghosts and demons in this child's room. 

If you wanted to do this in your own film, make sure you're concentrating on creating that depth and width for the effect of allowing the audience to almost see to the back of the room without them seeing everything immediately. It is a difficult thing to create and may take some time to get right. But here's a trick. Try to line up the slight light source with the character who is being haunted. Notice how you can draw a straight line from the child to the window. This is because then, you can give a POV without having your camera in a POV shot; the child's face is lit up and the audience get to see the line of sight instead of just seeing everything. 

Colour Schemes

Colour Schemes are important in any horror film. You will notice that in most horror films, nobody is wearing the bright colours of the 1980s or the intense hues you'd associate with neon or highlighters. It's always the normal/sombre colours and this isn't by accident. This is to make sure that when it goes dark, nothing about their clothing stands out. It's to also make sure that when it goes dark and the focused light source is switched on that their clothing is not the first thing you see. Let's have a look at how this film does this: 

Frame

Just take a look at this frame. It is one of my personal favourite frames from the film and we get to see a true horror colour scheme here. It's not just that there's no stand-out colours apart from the bright white worn by the ghost but that there's also a certain amount of old furniture which means that some of the colours are relatively darker than what normal people would have in their own houses. 

If you wanted to do this in your own film, you need to be able to use a colour scheme that makes a good effect and dims everything else when the lights go down. Notice how there isn't much lighting in this scene and yet, the woman in white is very noticeable. The reason is because the natural light source throws some light upon her and also that the other colours in the scene are all quite dull. Nothing is a bright colour; even the greens, browns, and reds are dimmed and dull. So, the way in which this is done is by making the other colours quite sombre. 

Conclusion

Insidious: Chapter 2 is one of my favourite films of the franchise and, well, it has much more to explore than these three themes. If you want to explore further, you may want to have a look at the following: 

  • Close Ups
  • Normality
  • The Colour Red

So, hopefully after reading this, you're on your way to making your Insidious: Chapter 2 styled project or you've gotten to know a great film a little bit more. Good luck on your next project!

Read next: Christie's Story
Annie Kapur
Annie Kapur

English and Writing (B.A), Film and Writing (M.A).

Musical Interests: Bob Dylan, Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Buddy Holly 

Favourite Films: I'm Not There & The Conjuring Series

Instagram: @3ftmonster 

Twitter: @3ftmonster

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