Synopsis: To put their demons to rest, Josh and a college-aged Dalton must go deeper into The Further than ever before, facing their family’s dark past and a host of new and more horrifying terrors that lurk behind the red door.
Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Sinclair Daniel, Hiam Abbass, Andrew Astor, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Lin Shaye
Director: Patrick Wilson
Running Length: 107 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: With the summer movies already scoring major points by making our hearts leap into our throats with the big action blockbusters (Indiana Jones and the Dial Code of Destiny) and finding our funny bone with comedies (No Hard Feelings), it was inevitable that a scare or two would follow. A reliable fright is always something to look forward to, and perhaps that’s why the arrival of a new Insidious movie makes my pulse race a bit. Though it wasn’t widely screened for critics in advance like the four previous installments (uh-oh), this fifth, and supposedly for the moment final, entry hopes to pack audiences in and goose them good with its trademark jump scares. And you know what? It’s an entertaining way to close the chapter on this franchise, at least for now.
Directed by its star Patrick Wilson who returns in front of the camera along with most of the previous cast, save for one character whose funeral opens the movie, Insidious: The Red Door picks up nine years after the events of Chapter 2. (For those tracking, Chapter 3 and The Last Key were stand-alone prequels involving Lin Shaye’s droll psychic Elise Rainier). The Lamberts never fully recovered on an emotional level from the events that happened to them, culminating in a demon possessing Josh (Wilson, Moonfall), who then attempted to hunt down his wife Renai (Rose Byrne, Spirited) and sons Foster (Andrew Astor) and Dalton (Ty Simpkins, Jurassic World) with whom he shares a special gift.
Josh and Dalton can use astral projection to travel to other dimensions and had found themselves in one haunted by demons waiting for vulnerable souls to capture. Once imprisoned, they can use their physical bodies to inhabit the real world. After Josh was free of the demon inside him in Chapter 2, he and Dalton were hypnotized into forgetting about the previous year’s events, taking the memories of their gift with them. While they may have forgotten, the fog left behind casts a shadow over the lives of everyone, driving a wedge between a family already emotionally devastated.
As Dalton heads off to college, Renai suggests Josh drive him as a way for the father and son to reestablish some bond before they are further separated. A gifted artist, Dalton’s work reflects a mind conflicted with uncertainty, and having been estranged from his own absent father (hello, thematic daddy issues!) Josh understands the outward manifestation of his inner thoughts. Still, the two struggle to connect, and after meeting Josh’s mistakenly paired co-ed roommate Chris (the marvelous Sinclair Daniel), they leave on bad terms. Shortly after, during his first class with a demanding teacher (Hiam Abbass, Blade Runner 2049) with unconventional methods, the memories locked away in Dalton’s mind are slowly released, opening a door that has been shut too long and releasing an evil that has been biding its time as it waited for freedom.
For the fourth sequel in a long-running franchise, Insidious: The Red Door spends more time than you might think with its setup. Screenwriter Scott Teems (director of 2020’s The Quarry and a writer on 2021’s Halloween Kills) has worked with original creator Leigh Whannell to take the Lambert story to a new level, introducing ideas and deeper threads that further character development. These are all pieces you’d expect to find in subsequent chapters of a continuing story, and the Insidious films have generally been good about fleshing out their storylines. I still have some issues with the whole notion of astral projection and The Further because the rules of it appear to be arbitrary at times. Still, we’re here for the scares the situation provides, and Wilson has been on scary sets long enough (The Conjuring and its two sequels) to know how to creep an audience out.
Viewers familiar with the series will recognize the terrifying Lipstick Demon (played again by Joseph Bishara, who also composes the spine-tingly score), but Wilson also throws in several well-timed jump scares and nerve-janglers along the way. Those already given to having a fear of MRIs might want to visit the concession stand during Josh’s nightmare-inducing encounter with the machine. Then there are the slow boils, visual cues that are just barely in our eyesight; these are the ones we have to strain to see as they come into focus. Is that a ghost? A demon? A friend? How long do you wait before you run? Just when you thought about it long enough, the scare comes where you least expect it.
While the film delivers on its genre goods, it can feel staid on a performance level. Doing double duty didn’t hinder Wilson so much as show that he’s just as flat behind the camera as he is in front. Wilson isn’t a bad actor, just an uninteresting one, and the same goes for his directing of dramatic scenes. Watching the movie’s first thirty minutes, much wrapped up in family dynamics, comes across as a point-and-shoot exercise. Compare that to what previous directors in this series have done from a visual angle, and Wilson comes up short. Wilson singing on the furiously upbeat lite-rock track that plays over the closing credits is the most Patrick Wilson-y thing ever but also…perfect.
Seeing this on a cool July Saturday summer eve with a packed audience, it’s entirely possible I’m giving extra points to Insidious: The Red Door because it felt like the right movie at the right time. Maybe that’s better than taking my opinion from an early screening mid-week when everyone is tired and expectations are set at a different level. Who knows? As a paying customer, this one was worth my time, and the adrenaline rush from the scares after re-visiting the Lamberts and The Further sent me off into the dark of the night feeling satisfied.