Insidious: The Red Door
Updated: Aug 12
The latest in this horror franchise struggles to justify itself
Insidious (2010) helped kickstart a revived horror genre that spurted great original terror in the first half of the 2010s. We got the likes of The Conjuring (2013) and its sequels, Mike Flannagan’s films and shows on Netflix, Sinister (2012), Hereditary (2018), The Babadook (2014), and more. While independent horror continues to impress intermittently, studio fare has become bogged down in precisely what killed off the great horror craze of the 70s and 80s: sequels. Insidious itself seemed to have been scathed such a fate after three diminishing but enjoyable follow-ups. The studio executives have not been able to resist and have delivered a fifth entry.
Insidious: The Red Door (2023) picks up with the Lambert family, whom we followed in the first two films of the franchise. Set 9 years after the ending of Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), we focus on patriarch Josh (Patrick Wilson), morose, divorced, and estranged from his family, as he tries to reconnect with his college bound son Dalton (Ty Simpkins). Both characters were the main victims in the previous films, and as such underwent hypnosis to forget their trauma at the end of Chapter 2. However, in The Red Door certain memories begin to come back, and as Josh and Dalton curiously dig deeper, they inadvertently begin to invite familiar demons back into the real world.
Insidious: The Red Door is the directorial debut of Patrick Wilson. As with many actors-turned-directors, Wilson shines most in his handling of performances. Simpkins, who started off as a child actor in the first Insidious and made the rounds in other blockbusters such as Iron Man 3 (2013) and Jurassic World (2015), has truly grown into a formidable actor. He showed his matured mettle in a small role within last year’s controversial The Whale (2022), and in The Red Door Wilson extracts an impressive and winning lead performance from the young actor. There is also the addition of Sinclair Daniel, as Dalton’s college roommate, which could easily have become an obnoxious sidekick, but with Daniel’s charm and clever directorial restraint makes this supporting role appealing.
Wilson, however, largely falters within the other elements of the genre. There are sprinkled moments of atmospheric horror that work, but The Red Door largely resorts to an incessant use of jump-scares. There were using sound so exaggeratedly to startle viewers that it started hurting my eardrums. Wilson also employs a restlessness with his camera work, constantly swiveling, tracking, or moving and not letting the trickling of terror take its time to grip viewers, as James Wan did with the first and second films.
The story of The Red Door is lacking in its justification for returning to this franchise. This is the first film in the franchise not written by Leigh Whannel (though he does retain story credit), and was penned by Scott Teems instead. Teems crafts an intriguing father-son dynamic that is sadly never fully explored; both Josh and Dalton Lambert are kept apart for nearly the entire film. There was an equally interesting use of a painting within the film, which might strike viewers as a variation of the “Portrait of Dorian Grey,” but this aspect is also scarcely used. One could have crafted an appealing if rather generic horror film out of those two elements, but The Red Door seems to be bending itself over backwards to fit into the Insidious franchise. As such, the rest of the narrative is constructed to wink to earlier films in the series rather than developing its own story. The justification for revisiting these characters is weak, and the shameless cameos of past characters and stars feels gratuitous and distracting.
In the end, Insidious: The Red Door is bogged down by having to be an Insidious movie. There is a more original and interesting horror film hidden somewhere amongst the references. Wilson falls into generic jump-scare mania and his camera work could do with more patience; however, he demonstrates a true capacity to extract solid performances. Insidious: The Red Door delivers on basic entertainment, but is hardly a shadow of the monumental experience the first film in the franchise was.