The 2010’s saw a shift in horror as far as popular trends go. Ultra-violent “torture porn” like Saw and Hostel had dominated the 2000’s, but as the 2010’s dawned demonic/paranormal horror movies became the popular norm.
One could argue it began with Paranormal Activity in 2009. And while it was definitely a paranormal film (it’s even in the title), it was a bigger inspiration in the found footage subgenre.
When it comes to 2010’s demonic/paranormal horror, there is nothing as iconic as franchises like Insidious, Sinister, and The Conjuring. So we thought it would be fun to settle it once and for all, determining a definitive winner of the three.
Just to be clear. Each one spawned sequels/spinoffs, so just for congruity, we’re only going to be comparing the first movies of each.
Round I – Characters
In a similar sense, all three movies deal with a family in peril from supernatural forces. Sinister has great and believable characters, but ultimately they’re just another horror movie family.
The same can be said about Insidious, although they do take it a step further by introducing Elise and her team of modern day “ghost-busters”.
They have an interesting dynamic, and we get the sense that they’ve had many adventures before (which the 3rd and 4th films delve into).
Ultimately however, we can tell that Elise is heavily influence by Lorraine Warren, who was something of a hero to director James Wan.
Which is why he was all the more excited when 3 years after Insidious, he got to direct The Conjuring, featuring her as a main character.
The Conjuring is unlike most other horror in that it’s the family who are supporting characters, and the paranormal investigators who are the protagonists.
This is what allows them to make sequels that don’t feel repetitive, because they can just follow the Warrens on different cases. Both Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are believable as a married couple, with a dynamic that’s downright sweet and heartwarming.
Round II – Story
On the surface, all three films utilize a myriad of horror movie tropes. In no way is this an insult because they used these tropes very well, but Insidious and Sinister take it a bit further than The Conjuring.
They’re the only ones who find ways to subvert those tropes, so this round is going to be between them. So many horror films feature audience members yelling at the characters to leave the house, and to their credit, both movies have this happen when things get too real.
Unfortunately for the characters in Sinister, this ends up getting them killed, but they had no way of knowing that at the time. Insidious however takes things a step further.
The family leaves the house at the end of the first act, and we even get one of the most iconic jump scares in brought daylight, which makes it all the more unexpected.
While writing the script for Insidious, Leigh Whannell reportedly kept a list of horror clichés on his desk, and always referenced it, just to be sure he was finding ways to subvert them, and it really shows!
Round II Winner – Insidious
Round III – Tone/Style
The Conjuring uses its 70’s setting as an advantage, and has this great vintage feel as a result. Other than that however, it doesn’t really make any bold stylistic choices. Insidious makes a bold choice, but it kind of backfires.
When we first hear about “The Further”, it sounds like a strange and creepy place. But part of the reason for this is we don’t actually see it. Our minds imagine something truly terrifying.
But once we actually see The Further in the third act, it takes away that creepiness, by looking more like the set of a Tim Burton movie than the terrifying hellscape audiences imagined. On the surface, Sinister’s tone seems quite simple, but it’s incredibly effective.
As Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke) goes down the rabbit hole of the murders in the house, he discovers the collection of iconic “home movies” that are by far the best part of this movie.
Round IV – Visuals/Effects
In a strange way, Insidious losing the last round is precisely why they’re winning this one. While going all out and showing us The Further takes away the audience’s fear, we have to admit it is the most visually interesting of the three movies.
It may not be scary, but the production design team deserves immense credit for creating a very visually interesting world, complimented with practical effects and makeup, rather than CGI.
Round V – Music
All three films feature truly creepy and memorable music, all featuring strings. There’s something about that family of instruments that just always has the potential to sound terrifying!
But there are really two things that give Sinister a slight edge. The first is the incredibly unsettling music during the “home movies”. The BBQ one in particular sounds like less music, and more like demons chanting from hell itself!
And the second is the iconic “Gyroscope” theme by Boards of Canada, which is become the unofficial theme of Sinister. It’s electronic percussive sound resembles that of the film reel spinning, and thus is incredibly fitting.
Round V Winner – Sinister
Round VI – Scares
Admittedly, this is difficult round to call, as “scary” is quite subjective. All three use jump scares that don’t feel cheap, and all three relish in a creepy and unsettling atmosphere.
The Conjuring and Sinister are even both rated R simply for their disturbing content and scares, and both contain little violence or cursing.
But again, it’s those “home movies” that set Sinister apart. The fact that they were shot on Super 8 gives them that extra realistic feel.
Which one is your favorite?! Let us know in the comments!