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Movie Review: “INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR” is a high five for the series

Thursday, July 6, 2023 | Reviews


Starring Ty Simpkins, Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne
Directed by Patrick Wilson
Written by Scott Teems
Sony/Screen Gems

Brainstorming a heady combination of home-is-where-the-terror-is and shadow-dimensions-of-clammy, the INSIDIOUS series delivered the jangling goods with its first two James Wan-directed installments–before cadging for scraps with its two subsequent prequels. The latter “meh” entries, coupled with the longest hiatus yet for the franchise, did not indicate promise for the belated fifth movie, INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR. But, in a film with several good jolts, one of the biggest is that THE RED DOOR manifests as the strongest entry since CHAPTER 2. Considering how more than one Blumhouse franchise has ended ignominiously, that is all the more welcome.

Further (no pun intended), just as STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK benefitted from a core cast member taking the director’s chair, it turns out to be only logical (pun intended) that a comparable move proves sanguine here. Of course, Patrick Wilson has had the benefit of toplining multiple Blumhouse movies, also including starring stints for Wan in some of the CONJURING chillers–and he has clearly been taking notes while readying to make the leap.

THE RED DOOR begins on precisely the right dread-inducing note, as dissonant sounds precede a crucial refresher flashback and then a somber pre-credit tableau that serves notice of how the plot will sensibly advance while also evincing a commitment to getting back to emotional basics. We are finally in the present day again with this series, nine years after the events of CHAPTER 2 and embedded anew with the Lambert family. But they have sustained scar tissue, and Wilson takes a keen interest in having himself and the other actors subtly convey them. His patriarch Josh feels disconnected from now ex-wife Renai (Rose Byrne), who is still cordial to him, and their children–particularly eldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins), who is about to begin college. The latter, who as a child bore the brunt of the first two movies’ horrors, is moody and channels his feelings into art studies while all but avoiding his father.

As INSIDIOUS completists will recall, Josh and Dalton underwent hypnosis to mercifully erase their memories of the events in the first two pictures; THE RED DOOR cannily builds up the viewer’s sense of anxiety in wondering just how and when the past will come flooding back into their consciousness, and in what frightening manner. Also, Wilson and scripter Scott Teems (working from a story by series stalwart Leigh Whannell) are scrupulous about acknowledging the importance of pre-existing characters in the canon and their respective experiences; unlike many a horror sequel, or indeed horror movie, this one acknowledges that what happened to everyone has had consequences both intangible and tangible.

After Josh awkwardly road-trips with Dalton to even more awkwardly drop him off at school, it’s the latter who carries a good chunk of THE RED DOOR; the consistency of having Simpkins return to the role he originated provides a bedrock that the actor builds on to draw the audience into his orbit. At school, Dalton is befriended by fellow freshman Chris Winslow (Sinclair Daniel, who steals many a scene with her feistiness), while his art class with tough Professor Armagan (Hiam Abbass of the recent HELLRAISER) yields new work from him that proves…discomfiting, not least when he brings it back to his dorm room. Back on home turf, Josh begins experiencing disturbing visions…

As director, Wilson demonstrates somewhat daring–and sometimes overextended–hang-back patience with the story’s parallel father/son tracks, as the frame slowly but surely begins to accommodate near-trompe l’oeils and did-I-just-see-something? shivers before graduating to sudden shocks. While we brace ourselves for the inevitable return to The Further netherworld, THE RED DOOR also plays on our expectations of whether we’re going to see pre-existing horrific imagery or fresh terrors; the PG-13 rating is earned, but not flouted. The artisans on the project contribute effectively unifying work, whether returnees such as series composer Joseph Bishara or new recruits like production designer Adam Reamer, so that THE RED DOOR feels of a piece with the first two movies–and even parts of the next two.

THE RED DOOR may occasionally creak under the self-imposed pressure of being a reboot and a requel and a finale all at once, but more often, all concerned meet the challenge with class and chills. As for whether the door is figuratively left open for another sequel…patrons are advised to sit through to the very end of the closing credits.