Insidious: The Red Door
Patrick Wilson makes his directorial debut with this weary, creaky, by-the-numbers fifth instalment in the supernatural horror franchise.
July 06, 2023
Horror franchises like their doors to stay open: years may pass, stars and filmmakers may come and go, but every popular series eventually waltzes back onto screens. That's been true of Halloween, Scream, Candyman, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Friday the 13th and more. It's also accurate of Insidious, which is up to five features in 12 years and returns after its longest gap to-date. For viewers, half a decade has elapsed since this supernatural saga last hit cinemas in 2018's underwhelming Insidious: The Last Key, one of two prequels alongside Insidious: Chapter 3 (because that was the only way to keep bringing back MVP Lin Shaye). For Insidious' characters, though, Insidious: The Red Door takes place nine years after the events of Insidious: Chapter 2. That flick was the last until now to focus on Josh (Patrick Wilson, Moonfall) and Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne, Platonic), plus their haunted son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, The Whale) — and it's their tale the franchise leaps back into.
Not only starring but debuting as a director, Wilson makes Insidious: The Red Door an answer to the question that no one, not even the most dedicated horror fans, has likely asked: how are the Lamberts doing after their demonic dalliances? The portrait painted when the movie begins is far from rosy, with Josh and Renai divorced, Dalton resenting his dad, and something niggling at both father and son about their past. Neither the Lambert patriarch nor his now college-bound boy can remember their experiences with unpleasant entities in the astral plane, however, thanks to a penchant for handy hypnotism. So, Insidious: The Red Door poses and responds to another query: what happens when that memory-wiping mesmerism stops working?
Seasoned Insidious viewers already know what's in store: ghosts and evil spirits jump-scaring their way back into Josh and Dalton's minds and lives, and also into Insidious: The Red Door's frames. In the saga's mythology, such beings hail from a form of purgatory known as The Further and can't easily be suppressed. Accordingly, when Dalton's university art professor (Hiam Abbass, Succession) encourages him to dive into his subconscious, then splash what he sees onto a canvas, it's obvious where Scott Teems' (Firestarter) script is going. When the snappy Josh tries to glean why his brain is so foggy and his mood so peevish, he too has an unpleasant awakening. For the elder and younger Lambert men alike, first comes snippets of creepy visions, then unshakeable sights, then astral projection to get the Lipstick-Face Demon and The Bride in Black to stop.
"If only this portal had remained shut" isn't only something that Josh and Dalton are thinking in Insidious: The Red Door. Early, often, and until the weary and creaky film comes to an end, audiences share that wish. The picture keeps its central pair largely apart, one navigating his cursed chaos in his otherwise empty home, then endeavouring to reconcile with Renai (although Byrne is still woefully underused), and the other at school with new pal Chris (Sinclair Daniel, Bull). Splitting them up just plays like a quest to lengthen the movie's duration — extra running time that isn't put to good use. This isn't a meaningful exploration of trauma's lingering impact, the current genre go-to, as much as it wants to be. Similarly, it doesn't cause Wilson or Simpkins to turn in anything but workmanlike performances, either.
Plenty of horror franchises are resurrected with by-the-numbers instalments — that's become as much of a horror convention as constantly reviving spooky series again and again — but this is dispiritingly routine and repetitive, and also rarely even barely scary. It doesn't help that the better Insidious fare, aka the first two that sported Aquaman and Malignant's James Wan behind the camera, weren't ever exceptional. What they boasted was effectiveness in executing their bumps, capitalising upon their uneasy sights, slowly building their suspense and tension, and ramping up the unsettling atmosphere. Wan did start both the Insidious and Saw sagas with The Invisible Man's Leigh Whannell, and The Conjuring Universe solo. Whannell has penned every Insidious screenplay until now, and helmed 2015's Insidious: Chapter 3. The duo produces this time around, while Whannell came up with the story behind Teems' script.
As a filmmaker, Wilson is happy to go through the motions rather than try much new. He's also fond of closeups, which might stem from spending the bulk of his career in front of the lens. As a horror veteran — on-screen, he's a mainstay of The Conjuring movies as well, as last seen in The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It; he popped up in Annabelle Comes Home, the third feature in that series' spinoff series, too — he's reluctant to attempt to put a new stamp on one of his franchises. He knows where and how to sprinkle in unnerving figures and faces in the peripheries, and to elicit jumps, but only by sticking to the Insidious template. His best fright? It plays with and preys on medical anxiety, because anyone that's ever had an MRI has harboured fears about getting stuck in the claustrophobic machine — no forces from The Further needed.
Although it also doesn't work, the biggest and most interesting swing that Wilson takes comes over the closing credits, when Insidious: The Red Door busts out a version of late-80s track 'Stay' by Shakespears Sister. Swedish metal band Ghost are behind the cover, and Wilson himself sings on it. That truly is something that no other Insidious chapter has offered. Wan and Whannell genuinely couldn't have foreseen inspiring it, unlike sparking a wave of post-Saw torture porn, or the many movies about sinister kids, jinxed items and paranormal investigations that the Insidious films have influenced. Still, that isn't what any Insidious chapter should be best known for, let alone justify keeping the franchise's hatch open — but sixth flick Thread: An Insidious Tale, which'll broaden out the Insidious Universe with Mandy Moore (This Is Us) and Kumail Nanjiani (Welcome to Chippendales) starring, plus Jeremy Slater (Moon Knight) writing and directing, is already in the works.
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