Thanks to a couple of entries that served as prequels, Insidious: The Red Door has managed to work the legacy sequel angle to an interesting degree. After closing off the storyline revolving around the Lambert family in 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2, the whole gang returns for another trip to the Further, the haunted zone full of ghosts and nightmare creatures. And it’s only appropriate for this film to make good use of the generational trauma that we were able to witness at the start of this series a decade earlier. Is all this enough to make star Patrick Wilson’s directorial debut a spooky success? Well, The Red Door has quality ideas but may have a few too many creaks in the hinges.
Some brief table setting re-establishes that Josh Lambert (Patrick) and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) were hypnotized in order to forget everything about their abilities to astral project their spirits into the Further, where they encountered some truly messed up demons. Now it’s ten years later, and things are not great for the family. Josh and Renai (Rose Byrne) are now divorced, mainly due to the fogginess Josh has experienced as a side effect of being clean of inadvertent ghoul exploration. Dalton is similarly withdrawn, but now he’s off to college, where his awkwardness will either be celebrated or have him further fade into the background.
I credit writers Scott Teems and Leigh Whannell for allowing the Lambert-based Insidious sequels to feel like natural extensions of their previous entries. By having follow-ups tied so closely to these specific characters, there are proper arcs for these characters and interesting themes to consider. Given that trauma is in no way new to horror but certainly gets a lot of attention as of late, it’s a bit of an obvious route to take. Still, even at the expense of seeing these characters ever be happy, it works well for Simpkins and Wilson as performers.
It is also a relief to watch these two deal with all the scary stuff this time. Poor Rose Byrne suffered enough when her kids were younger, so while she’s off making various comedies for AppleTV+, Wilson is no longer the oblivious skeptic that he was in the first film, let alone the possessed threat from the second. This time, Josh is forced to reckon with his own issues, and the scares come in the form of things that make sense for him to be terrified of.
Meanwhile, Simpkins is rolling into this film several feet taller than the last time we saw his character and coming off of the esteem granted to him by co-starring in The Whale. Is he bringing depth to the moodiness he puts on display as a first-year art student? Yes, but that kind of thing can get old.
Fortunately, he gets a pal in the form of Chris (Sinclair Daniel), another freshman sharing a dorm with him, and she’s allowed to bring some fun energy to the film. I can’t say the two share much chemistry, but the film has no real idea of what to do with them as a couple beyond discussing things related to the plot. Still, an Insidious movie dealing with a father and son who don’t get along but also see creepy ghosts could use some laughs.
Regarding those disturbing spirits, it’s tough to say Insidious: The Red Door is sufficiently scary, but it tries. James Wan and Whannell’s 2010 original was heavy on the jump scares, fair or not, with composer Joseph Bishara (who has scored all these films and all the Conjuring films) blaring the music as loud as possible for what worked as a fun fright fest. This series really only has intense sound design and the concept of the Further as its tricks to play with, so it’s not hard to see why the series could go stale. So, for the fifth entry, Wilson has undoubtedly studied up on how to construct some extended horror set pieces, which is notable. Still, the results have nothing all that fresh to offer.
The setups are all essentially the same. A character is alone, usually in the dark, and has a focus on a particular spot in a room. Meanwhile, something lurks behind them or appears in the distance, only for a shift in movement that reveals the shape being closer or gone altogether. Soon enough, the creature pops out of nowhere. There are some unique locations for this premise (an MRI machine is the best use in this film), but it all feels so old hat by now.
Other ideas get some attention but don’t really go anywhere, such as Dalton’s art teacher, played by Hiam Abbass. I liked the idea of her unlocking Dalton’s past by happenstance. If anything, a psychological horror film that featured no actual demons but simply a mental exploration of a kid who saw some serious stuff when he was much younger could make for a compelling horror drama. As it stands, at least Dalton seems poised to win a contest at a local art fair. Similarly, we learn more about Josh’s father, but it doesn’t amount to much beyond reasons to have a bit more empathy for the Lambert family.
As the latest entry in a horror franchise designed to get some fun jumps out of the audience, I know the film isn’t trying to go after something more profound. If anything, it’s commendable that despite having a decently sized budget compared to the first (which cost $1.5) million, there seems to be an attempt to make The Red Door look like its low-cost predecessor. Of course, Wan has a real knack for making his stamp present on his films, and digital photography still seemed novel in 2010 compared to today. However, watching the simplicity of Wilson roaming a darkened, minimal soundstage with nothing but smoke and blackness around him gets the desired effect.
Insidious: The Red Door only has so much to offer for those looking for some summer thrills. It does play well enough for completists excited to see a return of this specific cast to this franchise. I suppose it is also saying something that I was compelled enough by the film being shown that didn’t involve the horror element. Regardless, this possible final chapter (never say never) isn’t sitting as a super high for the series but doesn’t go out on a limp, either. It goes just far enough.