Face-Off: Insidious vs. Sinister

Blumhouse Productions will be bringing more supernatural horrors to the big screen with weekend with the release of INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY (the fourth movie in the INSIDIOUS franchise). In anticipation of this release, this week's Face-Off needed to be something related to Blumhouse supernatural horror films, and the company has certainly provided plenty of options. After weighing those options, the best choice seemed to be putting the first INSIDIOUS up against Blumhouse's SINISTER, a film which also received a sequel and which, like INSIDIOUS, deals with a supernatural entity taking away a child. Which of these films handled the situation better, and which had the more interesting set-up for sequels? Let's see...
Creaking doors. Strange noises. Voices on a baby monitor. Lurking spirits. Things start small in INSIDIOUS, but it eventually blows up into an exploration of a whole other dimension, a place without time that's inhabited by the spirits of the dead. At the center of this paranormal activity is a comatose young boy, Dalton Lambert (Ty Simpkins), who has the ability of astral projection. Dalton's spirit wandered too far from his body and became trapped, now all sorts of twisted souls are hoping to be the one that can inhabit the empty vessel that is his body. The build-up is creepy, but things really get interesting once a demonic entity shows up, looking cooler and scarier than the average ghost.
The Oswalt family has (unbeknownst to most of them) moved into a murder house so family partriarch Ellison can write a true crime book about what took place at their new home. While Ellison delves into the mysteries of the murder, strange things begin to occur - his son has night terrors, his daughter seems to be communing with the spirit of a missing girl. Most of these things, like the sight of murdered children standing in the background or running around the house, are pretty standard. The creepiest things are the snuff films Ellison discovers in the attic... and his examination of these films reveals the existence of a much scarier supernatural creature than some ghost kids.
Patrick Wilson plays Dalton's father Josh, who is a very bland good guy. Good husband, good father, brave enough to venture into the land of the dead to retrieve the spirit of his son from a demon. He's just not a very interesting person. Not even the drama of his forgotten childhood, when he himself got into trouble by taking astral projection field trips from his body, elevates him out of blandness. His biggest flaw is that he sometimes doesn't keep his wife up-to-date on his work schedule. Josh is a fine hero character, there's just not a lot of layers to him.
Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) is a flawed character, driven by a desire to feel relevant again 10 years after the release of his most popular book. He wants to earn money for his family, but he really wants fame and acclaim, and he makes poor decisions for the sake of his new book. Like not taking the snuff films to the police, and brushing off the safety of his family so he can keep digging deeper into the secrets of the gruesome home videos. You may shake your head at him, but he certainly has depth, and his flaws add some excellent dramatic scenes into the mix.
The demon keeping Dalton in the other dimension is called the Lipstick-Face Demon, and he doesn't get to do a lot in the film - his most popular moment is when he's seen hanging out behind somebody. Josh eventually enters the demon's lair, though, and that's when we get to see how awesome this thing is, sharpening its metal claws while listening to Tiny Tim. The demon could have become a new icon if the sequels/prequels had shown more of him. Instead they moved away from him and we only have a few fleeting minutes with him here.
As Ellison pours over the home videos, he spots a mysterious, frightening figure lurking in the background, watching the murders take place. This figure turns out to be the pagan deity Bughuul, known to children as Mr. Boogie. Bughuul feeds on the souls of children, but only after he has gotten the child to murder their family. Bughuul doesn't do much on screen, we just see this pale, odd-looking figure stand around and occasionally lurch at people, but behind the scenes he is making some horrendous things happen.
This ending is such an unnecessary downer that it soured me on the entire movie for a while. After we've been rooting for the Lamberts to get out of their horrible situation all movie, the film teases us with the hope of a happy ending, then shows us that things are messed up in a whole new way - and it looks like everything the characters accomplished was pointless. Thankfully CHAPTER 2 showed us things aren't as bad as they look in the final moments.
The end of SINISTER is a major bummer, as Bughuul gets exactly what he wanted. An entire family is murdered and the soul of another child is claimed. But this isn't something just tacked on to shock - this ending answers the questions Ellison Oswalt and the viewer have been pondering the entire film. It shows us exactly what's going on and how it all works. While it's a downer, it's also fitting, and it's satisfying because... now we know.
The key to the INSIDIOUS franchise is The Further, the land of the dead and the demonic. As soon as the existence of this other dimension was revealed, INSIDIOUS opened the door to all sorts of continuation possibilities. Other hauntings, other possessions, even stories with time travel elements, since time no has meaning in The Further. This is much bigger than the Lamberts, and it's even bigger than the paranormal investigators who have been in every sequel and prequel since. The potential offered by The Further is limitless, the only thing that could halt the exploration of it is bad box office.
The winner of this is kind of obvious, since we're getting a fourth INSIDIOUS film while the SINISTER series appears to have sputtered out after two. I would love to see more SINISTER movies, though, as this film did a great job of establishing the threat of Mr. Boogie and setting up the child eater's mythology. Still, the formula is somewhat limited: every time we'd have to watch a child turn against their family after seeing the image of Bughuul. The home videos add a great element, but multiple films of watching people sit through home videos would get old. It already didn't work as well the second time.
I like both INSIDIOUS and SINISTER quite a lot, but I had to come around to INSIDIOUS. SINISTER totally won me over during my first viewing of it. As promising as the concept of The Further is, within these first films I find the home videos of Bughuul to be more interesting, and Ellison Oswalt to be a more intriguing character than anyone in INSIDIOUS. They both have creepy ideas and awesome villains, but in the end I prefer SINISTER.

Do you agree with the outcome of this Face-Off, or do you think INSIDIOUS should have come out the victor? Share your thoughts on these films by leaving a comment below. If you'd like to suggest ideas for future Face-Off articles, you can contact me at [email protected].



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