Director James Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell have had a tremendous impact on modern horror films, not once but twice: first, with 2004’s “Saw,” which sparked a wave of tantalizing splatter films; and then with the atmospheric 2010 film Insidious, a slick paranormal intrusion story. Over the past decade, Insidious has proved particularly influential, inspiring dozens of films about haunted objects, creepy children and grizzled paranormal investigators – all filled with slowly rising suspense and aggressive jump scares, many of which have spawned entire universes, sequels, prequels and spin-offs. off.
Insidious: The Red Door is the fifth film in the series, and at times it seems like a conscious attempt to remind everyone who the big boss of the genre is. Wan isn’t involved this time, but Whannell co-wrote the story with the film’s noted screenwriter Scott Teems, while Patrick Wilson — the star of the original Insidious and this film’s co-star — makes his directorial debut. This team has created something that may rely too heavily on the same old tricks, but is often genuinely scary.
Wilson reprises his role as Josh Lambert, who discovered in the first two films that he and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) have the ability to astral project out of their bodies thanks to their connection to a purgatory dimension called “Futher” filled with turmoil and spirits Demons the Lamberts intend to use to drain the life force of living people. The third and fourth “Insidious” films were prequels in which the Lamberts were only mentioned in passing; But The Red Door ties right into Insidious: Chapter Two, which ended with Josh and Dalton being hypnotized to suppress all their memories of The Further.
This cure turned out to be a curse. Nine years later, separated from a significant part of themselves and their past together, Josh and Dalton have become estranged from each other; and Josh is now divorced from Dalton’s mother, Renai (Rose Byrne). But when Dalton leaves home to study painting at college, his favorite professor (Hiam Abbass) encourages him to tap into his subconscious, which unleashes his powers. At the same time, Josh begins to confront his own past to find out why he’s such a jerk to the people he loves. The answers shock him – and also wake him up.
Anyone who’s seen an Insidious movie (or any of the Insidious clones) knows what’s next. Both Josh and Dalton are disturbed by visions of decomposing corpses approaching them making demands. Behind the camera, Wilson has a good command of the visual grammar of all this, although there’s no reason he shouldn’t. He follows a proven plan. Wan (and later Whannell when he directed the third film) perfected the art of weaponizing negative space on screen, constantly keeping audiences on their toes by threatening to blur the blurred areas around the heads of the Filling heroes with something monstrous.
This trick still works like a gangbuster, and The Red Door contains several sequences that are creepy on the “looking through your fingers while slumped in your seat” level. (A scene where Josh plays a concentration game with pictures taped to his living room window while an evil spirit slowly and undetected approaches is almost unbearably intense.) The fact that two main characters are independently haunted works Goes against the narrative drive of this film, but does allow Wilson and Teems to hop from scare to scare without much preparation — or rest.
The Red Door isn’t as good as the first Insidious and may even lag behind some of the Insidious clones. But it’s not an impersonal brand extension. Here it becomes clear how important it is for an artist – actually for every living person – to deal with past traumas instead of ignoring them. Admittedly, the Lambert boys have to face their fears, otherwise there is no horror film. But the point is still well understood.
“Insidious: The Red Door”
Rated: PG-13, for violence, terror, frightening imagery, strong language, and lewd innuendos.
Duration: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Play: Generally publication