Insidious: The Red Door - Once More Into The Further

  • First Released Jul 7, 2023
  • movie
Phil Owen on Google+

Franchise star Patrick Wilson makes his directorial debut on the very solid fifth Insidious movie.

After a pair of prequels focusing on Lin Shaye's paranormal investigator, Insidious: The Red Door brings the series back to its original story thread: the Lambert family and the spooky ghosts who haunt them. This is a direct sequel to the second Insidious film--the third and fourth were prequels--picking up a decade later with Dalton (Ty Simpkins) all grown up and heading off to college, where he's about to meet some familiar malevolent spirits.

When I tell you that Insidious: The Red Door is a direct sequel to the second film, I'm saying this is not just another ghost story featuring the Lamberts that takes place after the last one. The Red Door is all about unpacking the trauma of those past events and actually trying to deal with them. That's a big deal--it's rare for horror sequels to be this concerned with ongoing stories like this. And it's that level of care that makes Insidious: The Red Door worth watching.

In the second film--which was released in 2013--the dad, Josh (Patrick Wilson, making his directorial debut with The Red Door), was possessed by the ghost of a serial killer called The Bride in Black, who had haunted him since childhood. The Bride made him try to kill his family, but in the end it was young Dalton (Ty Simpkins, who reprises the role as an adult in The Red Door) who braved the spirit realm and returned Josh to his body. To both bury the trauma of the event and hopefully prevent more incursions by ghosts, both Josh and Dalton were hypnotized and forced to forget every memory they had of these evil spirits.

The film opens with the Lamberts at a funeral--it's for Josh's mom, who was a major character played by Barbara Hershey in the first two movies. It's the capper on a decade of sadness, apparently. Josh has been suffering from some kind of brain fog ever since his hypnosis, and so he's been a pretty crappy dad ever since. Josh and Renai (Rose Byrne, also returning from the first two movies) got divorced because of it, and Dalton has an unconscious aversion to his dad that neither of them really understand.

So when Josh drives Dalton to college for the first time, the two get in a huge fight (Josh caps it off by calling him "an ungrateful little shit"), and then they go their separate ways--until they both start rediscovering their connections to the spirit world.

It's a really interesting premise for a horror sequel, and a particularly compelling one because it's still rare for horror sequels to carry on the franchise storyline with this sort of detail. The first two Insidious films and The Red Door together form an enjoyably coherent trilogy of films--both in theme and story. That might leave you a bit disoriented if you haven't watched those movies recently, but I'm not going to dock The Red Door for making an effort.

That said, Insidious: The Red Door is just not nearly as well-made as the first two films from director James Wan. Not that that is an extremely fair comparison--Wilson is directing his first movie here, whereas Wan has been one of the best working filmmakers for years. In that context, Wilson actually did really well. One of the hallmarks of Insidious has been the goofy, funhouse nature of the scares and fake-outs, with tension building up and then diffusing before a jump scare happens, or jump scares popping up during mundane moments when you weren't expecting them.

And The Red Door delivers plenty of that in some inventive new ways, like an early sequence where an out-of-focus ghost very slowly walks up behind an oblivious Josh sitting in his car. Wilson drives away before the ghost gets to him, and the audience laughs and laughs at how worked up we all got.

On top of dealing with the dynamics of the father/son relationship between Josh and Dalton, it also introduces Josh's dad, a ghost named Ben, into the mix. In life, Ben had the same spirit problem that Josh and Dalton do, and his presence in the story is key to helping Josh work through his issues with his own son. But something's missing.

Insidious: The Red Door has a big-picture problem--it has two main story threads that are very separate from each other for most of the film, and they don't converge in a satisfying or coherent way. We've got Josh on his quest to find out about his father, and we have Dalton in college unlocking his suppressed traumatic memories through the power of art and friendship with his new platonic best lady friend Chris (Sinclair Daniel), and both of these threads end up with Dalton and Josh being harassed by ghosts once again. But separately.

Dalton's story, which features Simpkins returning to a character he played as a child (and doing a great job of it) feels like a thematic whole. The incompleteness lies mostly in Josh's half of things.

The idea that his father also had this horrible ghost problem is a great one--parents are constantly traumatizing their kids by accident, and then those kids grow up and repeat their parents' mistakes, trapping everybody in a vicious cycle that goes on forever. But there's just not enough in Josh's story. His ghost dad never speaks and had not previously been mentioned in the series, and his mom is not in the movie at all, even as a ghost. Without at least one of their perspectives, we aren't able to get a sense of the full picture of this story.

So even though Insidious: The Red Door is a fun and spooky ride, and a very interesting continuation of past stories, it never manages to bring it all together. Even so, it's a must-watch for fans of the franchise--the Insidious film series is still uniquely weird even for the horror genre, and that's worth indulging in.

Phil Owen on Google+
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The Good

  • Takes the franchise plot as seriously as it should (very)
  • Has plenty of the inventive jump scares and fakeouts we love from Insidious
  • First-time director Patrick Wilson shows a lot of promise

The Bad

  • Sometimes feels like Dalton and Josh are in different movies
  • Needed more from Josh's parents
  • Patrick Wilson does a bang-up job in his first directing gig, but he's no James Wan (who is, though?)

About the Author

Phil Owen is a freelance reporter. Sony Pictures provided a screening of the film for the purposes of this review.