Patrick Wilson’s Scares Get Distracted by Drama in Insidious: The Red Door

Movies Reviews Insidious
Patrick Wilson’s Scares Get Distracted by Drama in Insidious: The Red Door

Insidious: The Red Door represents what’s hopefully the tail-end of the horror genre’s contemporary “Trauma Horror” infatuation. Patrick Wilson’s directorial debut wavers between being a mediocre Lambert family drama and another spooky submersion into The Further, without harmony or balance. The foundational signatures of Insidious films are present—one or two memorable scares, scratchy records, astral projection—but without the overwhelming boogeyman dread or atmospheric stranglehold. Screenwriter Scott Teems reflects on Leigh Whannell and James Wan’s Insidious franchise by showing the Lamberts after a decade’s worth of otherworldly traumatic repression, which disappointingly gets away from what’s otherwise made this series so sinisterly supernatural.

Nine years have passed since Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Dalton (Ty Simpkins) needed to undergo memory suppression after a possessed Josh attempted to murder his family. A subconscious fog blankets the traumatizing event like a sheet over antique furniture. Josh’s groggy state pushes him away from his wife and children—Dalton becomes a hidden-in-his-emo-shell art prodigy (Simpkins is all grown up as a moody and hipster-ass Dalton). It’s at college where Dalton’s instructor unlocks visions of a red door to which he struggles to ascribe meaning, as the Lamberts realize they can’t ignore their cursed past. Josh and Dalton must confront truths buried behind a firetruck-red door in The Further, which comes with perils that Renai Lambert (Rose Byrne) has tried to hide for so long.

Hauntings are familial as Josh and Dalton struggle to understand their ambiguous malaise. Not creaky floorboards or cobwebbed basements, but fathers abandoning their families and the paralysis of past traumas drive characters toward future darkness. Wilson keys into Josh’s ambivalence as a parent stuck in stagnation—the mood swings, the evaporating hope—which ends up feeling like a lesser departure compared to what earlier Insidious entries have accomplished. Wilson’s direction always feels distracted by dramatic character beats throughout the sloggy 107-minute duration, more regurgitated than rejuvenating compared to the Hereditarys or The Night Houses spearheading the Trauma Horror movement.

Wilson’s James Wan impression isn’t half bad, sectioning analysis of only the horror antics. Trailers spoil what’s definitively the sequel’s crowning fright—Josh’s interrupted MRI scan—but not a few other suitable thrills. Josh’s memory game with cardboard flippers taped to his window cleverly exploits a ghoul inching closer and closer with sporadic reveals, and Joseph Bishara’s score intensely spikes to elevate our heart rate as a clawed hand reaches from beyond the frame. Insidious: The Red Door doesn’t appear foreign in these glimpses; a testament to Wilson’s vision as Josh and Dalton face off against the Lipstick-Face Demon’s remixed attacks. That’s why the imbalance between nostalgic Further ruthlessness and waning interest in Lambert lineage secrets is so frustrating to power through.

Wilson’s Further is familiar, but lacks any chilly imprisonment tension as lanterns illuminate the misty nether reaches. Josh and Dalton’s reclamation of their shattered lives years later scratches an itch few franchises are afforded, but the one-note execution of father and son sappiness retraces commonplace Trauma Horror blueprints out of an A24 sketchbook. The door feels halfway open when letting us back into the Insidious franchise, with familiar faces scattered for reverent callbacks, unlike how Evil Dead Rise kicks the door in and claims its rightful series placement. Outside the introduction of Dalton’s no-filter college bestie Chris Winslow (a highly entertaining Sinclair Daniel), Wilson’s entry feels like Insidious Lite: A bit flat, flavor diluted, and not as fulfilling as its superior, full-bodied original.

Insidious: The Red Door is a mediocre sequel that tests the Lamberts’ perseverance after enduring infinite heartbreak, but loses pace with its Insidious siblings. Wilson acknowledges some thoughtful-yet-slight explorations of how artistic expression can soothe our wounds and how we waste time fearing the person we might become. Still, the total package of haunted complexes and Hallmark reunions never couples. With a tighter final cut, that might matter less, but the lulls in Insidious: The Red Door languish airlessly. The exceptionality of Insidious has worn treadless, its jagged edges now silky smooth. Another Trauma Horror experiment doesn’t pay off, leaving the faint aftertaste of an Insidious experience without the ghoulishly lip-smacking punch.

Director: Patrick Wilson
Writer: Scott Teems
Starring: Ty Simpkins, Patrick Wilson, Hiam Abbass, Sinclair Daniel, Andrew Astor, Rose Byrne
Release Date: July 7, 2023

Matt Donato is a Los Angeles-based film critic currently published on SlashFilm, Fangoria, Bloody Disgusting, and anywhere else he’s allowed to spread the gospel of Demon Wind. He is also a member of the Hollywood Critics Association. Definitely don’t feed him after midnight.

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