After stalling out with a pair of tenuously-related prequels, the Insidious franchise inevitably returns to the original family that scared up millions of dollars at the box office almost a decade ago. Insidious: The Red Door is both a direct sequel to 2013’s Insidious: Chapter 2 and a purported conclusion to the entire series, although I doubt Blumhouse will be able to fight the allure of a spin-off or two. A staple in front of the camera for both the Insidious and Conjuring horror franchises, Patrick Wilson puts on the director’s cap for the first time here in a genre that he’s come to know quite well. While he has noble instincts for developing dramatic stakes and tension within supernatural sequences, he doesn’t yet have the chops to pay off those elements in fulfilling ways. This film isn’t as scary as it needs to be and it’s not as quite poignant as it wants to be either, making for a disappointing end to this otherwise great trilogy.
After having the horrifying memories of demonic possession repressed through hypnosis, Josh Lambert (Wilson) and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) have grown apart despite their shared trauma. Seeing an opportunity for them to close the emotional gap, Josh’s ex-wife and Dalton’s mom Renai (Rose Byrne) suggests that Josh drop Dalton off for his first day at college. Though the trip ends in a bitter argument between the two, they separately have incidents that call back to their time in the perilous spirit realm known as The Further. Using their shared ability of astral projection, Josh and Dalton navigate the ghouls and lost souls that roam the creepy ghost world in order to close the door on The Further once and for all.
To the degree that Insidious: The Red Door works, it’s best realized as a sins of the father family drama about two men trying to overcome bitter estrangement and ancestral foibles. Simpkins, who was 9 years old when the first Insidious was released, has since made appearances in big budget fare from Jurassic World to Iron Man 3 and he clearly has the pedigree to play the now grown-up Dalton. He’s basically the lead this time around and he does a fine job transmuting his angry young man energy into something more tender by the movie’s conclusion. Wilson also gives a commendable performance as a man who doesn’t understand his own layers of hurt and makes an earnest effort (after initial pushback) to remedy his pain. I wish Simpkins and Wilson had more scenes together, given that their chemistry really makes their moments some of the movie’s best, but the structure of the narrative intentionally keeps their characters apart.
Regardless, most won’t go into Insidious: The Red Door expecting familial pathos and will understandably hope to be on the edge of their seat instead. Unfortunately, the horror aspects are where the film is most underwhelming, as Wilson just doesn’t quite have the knack for how to effectively pull off scares. A setup he uses frequently is that of an out-of-focus figure in the background slowly creeping towards our protagonists and while he finds a few noteworthy variations on this foundation, he doesn’t have the follow-through. Consider a scene where Josh is playing a memory game with photos on a window, where a figure he doesn’t see gets closer each time he lifts up one of the photos. Instead of having the figure’s face eventually right up to the glass, it just breaks through the window before that and spoils the setup. The rhythm with these jump scares just isn’t quite right and even those in the audience who aren’t horror connoisseurs are bound to notice.
The first two Insidious movies found a wonderful balance of time spent in the real world and time spent in The Further and not only is the ratio off in The Red Door but the look of The Further lacks the suspense that it did in those previous chapters. Director James Wan previously visualized this chilling spirit world as a reverberant abyss where a lantern could barely pierce through the darkness and fog but Wilson mostly opts for a more generic ghostly terrain when characters inhabit The Further. Cinematographer Autumn Eakin has a few tricks up her sleeve, including a sequence lit by string lights that will please fans of early Stranger Things, but the look of this film is predominantly murky. While fans of the Insidious series may appreciate the closure that The Red Door gives its characters, they’d do well to look to the first two entries for formidable frights.
Score – 2/5
New movies coming this weekend:
Coming to theaters on Wednesday is Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One, an action sequel starring Tom Cruise and Hayley Atwell following superspy Ethan Hunt and his IMF team as they track down a dangerous weapon before it falls into the wrong hands.
Streaming on Netflix is Bird Box Barcelona, a post-apocalyptic horror thriller starring Mario Casas and Georgina Campbell about a father and daughter who join up with others to try and survive a dystopian future in which no one survives looking at entities that have invaded and roam the earth.
Streaming on Hulu is The Jewel Thief, a crime documentary which details the unbelievable first-hand account of Gerald Blanchard, one of the most creative, calculating and accomplished criminal masterminds in modern history.
Reprinted by permission of Whatzup