INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR Review: Come for The Further, Stay for the Generational Trauma
Patrick Wilson stars in and directs the horror thriller, co-starring Ty Simpkins and Rose Byrne.
Onetime Asutralian college students and longtime friends, James Wan and Leigh Whannell began their careers as filmmakers with a proof-of-concept short that — once fully financed — turned into Saw, a cleverly-plotted, attention-grabbing, gore-soaked horror film that spawned eight sequels in as many years.
With commercial success came creative freedom. For Wan and Whannell that meant several additional collaborations, including the criminally underseen and underappreciated Dead Silence; Death Sentence, a brutally nihilistic riff on Death Wish; and another franchise/series starter, Insidious, an ingeniously conceived and executed supernatural thriller.
Wan went on to kickstart another supernatural franchise with The Conjuring (a virtual cinematic universe at this point), graduated to $100M+ budgets with the Fast & the Furious series, and directed arguably the most artistic and commercially successful title of the DCEU, Aquaman, and its upcoming sequel, Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom. Whannell turned to directing as well, including Insidious: Chapter 3, Upgrade, and inarguably the high point of his filmmaking career, The Invisible Man.
Wan left the Insidious series as a creative force behind long ago, but he continues to serve as a co-producer along with Whannell, the latter providing the story that Scott Teems converted into a feature-length screenplay, reuniting the Lambert family at the center of the first two entries and giving them an emotionally moving send-off to the generational trauma and supernatural drama that’s literally and figuratively haunted the Lamberts for more than a decade onscreen and off.
Replaying the final moments of the second entry, Insidious: The Red Door opens with the Lamberts’s decision to mind-wipe family patriarch Josh (Patrick Wilson) and his son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), of any and all memories associated with their life-and-death-altering experiences inside The Further, a purgatorial realm where undead spirits and demons dwell, waiting for the opportunity to reenter the land of the living, usually with horrific results for the targets of their unwanted attention.
That decision, to repress memories covering an entire year, results in unintended consequences, primarily a decade-long rift between Josh and his family, divorce to his long-suffering wife, Renai (Rose Byrne), and awkward, unfulfilling interactions at mandatory family gatherings and/or events. Their estrangement isn’t helped by the passing of Josh’s mother (Barbara Hershey), presumably to natural causes. At Renai’s persistent insistence, Josh agrees to drive the college-bound Dalton to his new school to study art and maybe work out some of the Further-related trauma he’s left unresolved for so long.
Making his directorial debut, Wilson splits off the narrative into two diverging sub-stories, one following Josh, alone in his late mother’s home and, like his oldest son, beginning the first, halting steps to fill in the gaps and holes in his memory, and the other Dalton, as he tentatively develops a potentially life-saving friendship with another college freshman and temporary roommate, Chris Winslow (Sinclair Daniel). A housing office error forces them to share sleeping quarters for a single night, but their contrasting personalities (she’s an extrovert, he’s an introvert) draws them together, eventually into investigating the strange occurrences swirling around Dalton when he falls asleep.
In a move admired by low-budget horror filmmakers everywhere, Wan and Whannell used a simple, mostly effects-free method for depicting The Further. It resembles our world, down to the furnishings in a bedroom and posters on the wall, but it’s perpetually cloaked in semi-darkness, requiring an all-important lantern for temporary visitors like Josh or Dalton to navigate safely. As before, though, entering The Further stirs its moribund inhabitants into supernatural action, hunting astral-projecting visitors and hoping to steal their real-world bodies.
Insidious: The Red Door doesn’t trod new ground as much as revisit the old, using the time-shifting effects of The Further to recontextualize the decade-old experiences of the Lambert family. It’s certainly nothing series fans haven’t seen before, but familiarity with series tropes does little to dampen the genuine — or more accurate, genuine-adjacent — emotion or sentiment found in the Lamberts’ struggle to overcome (now) generational trauma and reconcile themselves to the past and the choices they made.
Wilson doesn’t break or alter the slow-build, slow-burn approach that Wan and Whannell brilliantly took more than a decade ago, relying on stand-by tricks of the horror trade, including out-of-focus background objects that slowly move closer or into frame (sometimes disappearing, sometimes now), underlit hallways in or out of The Further, and gnarly-looking, attention-starved ghostly apparitions, if not outright welcomed, by the living.
For fans willing to put in the work (i.e., embrace patience as a virtue), Insidious: The Red Door will provide everything they expect and/or want from the series, not just nerve-shredding set pieces or the requisite jump scares, but a fractured family becoming whole again over the course of its one-hour and forty-minute running time. If only resolution, reconciliation, and renewal in the real-world were so easy.
Insidious: The Red Door opens exclusively in movie theaters today (Friday, July 7), via Sony Releasing and Screen Gems. Visit the official site for more information.
Insidious: The Red Door
- Patrick Wilson
- Leigh Whannell
- Scott Teems
- Rose Byrne
- Patrick Wilson
- Ty Simpkins