The last time we saw the Lambert family, psychic medium Carl (Steve Coulter) ended up suppressing the memories of Josh (Patrick Wilson) and Dalton (Ty Simpkins). And that was nearly ten years ago when James Wan last directed ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’. The franchise has since moved backward by giving us not one but two prequels, deviating from the Lambert family in favor of the fan-favorite Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) in her earlier days. Shaye remains the main reason that made the otherwise mixed results of ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’ and ‘Insidious: The Last Key’ watchable.
Now that the franchise finally returns to wrap up the story of the Lambert family, I’m curious to see how they going to end this. ‘Insidious: The Red Door,’ which marks franchise mainstay Patrick Wilson’s directorial debut, begins with a deliberate pre-credits prologue showcasing the actor’s unique flair for toying with audiences’ expectations.
It was a promising start as Wilson effectively incorporated the power of a static shot between the mundane moment and a suggestive visual that may or may not end with a boo!
Too bad, what follows next is a movie that almost puts me to sleep. Working on a screenplay from Scott Teems, who wrote the scattershot ‘Halloween Kills’ and last year’s god-awful ‘Firestarter’ remake, we learn that Josh and Renai (Rose Byrne) have divorced ever since the traumatic events of ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’. Josh, in the meantime, has a tough time trying to reconnect with the now grown-up Dalton, who barely speaks to him.
The latter is off to an art college, where he lives in a dorm and gets to know a student named Chris Winslow (Sinclair Daniel). Then, following his first art class Professor Armagan (Hiam Abbass) requested all her students to delve deeper into their inner emotions to ‘unlock’ their creativity, which somehow triggers Dalton to remember things. Things that lead him to draw the titular mysterious red door.
The red door in question refers to the pathway to an otherworldly dimension called The Further. The astral world which ruled by the Lipstick-Face Demon (Joseph Bishara), which housed the tortured dead souls.
The latter is the main antagonist that I like to call the demonic version of Darth Maul, given both of their predominantly fiery-red facial appearances. You get to see Lipstick-Face Demon in ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ but sadly, his appearance is more perfunctory this time around. And frankly, a waste of opportunity that Wilson fails to make good use of one of the fan-favorite characters in the ‘Insidious’ franchise.
Considering the nearly 10-year gap between ‘Insidious: Chapter 2’ and ‘Insidious: The Red Door,’ Wilson could only muster a disappointingly anticlimactic conclusion to the Lambert family story arc. I get that he wants to establish the dramatic weight of the estranged father-son relationship between Josh and Dalton.
This can be seen during the earlier parts of the movie, but Wilson lacks the directorial prowess to address the conflict, which in turn, feels more like he’s barely scratching the surface. It doesn’t help either when Ty Simpkins spends most of the time looking comatose and even giving me a surprisingly bland performance vibe. This is a far cry from Simpkins in his tween years when he did a better job playing Dalton under the direction of James Wan in the first two movies.
‘Insidious: The Red Door’ also tries to shake things up by focusing more on Dalton’s side of the story in the mold of a teen drama, complete with the obligatory frat party sequence. The thing is, the teen-drama angle, including the friendship dynamic between Dalton and Chris, is curiously hollow.
A subplot revolves around a deceased character related to the frat house. But it’s all glossed over, with the story taking too long to get to the main point. Even if Wilson is seemingly trying to evoke the deliberate storytelling of an old-school horror movie, it’s a pity the buildup itself is sluggish. With Simpkins’ teenage Dalton being such a resounding bore, it’s hard to invest in his character’s plight as he faces another (so-called) terrifying ordeal that opens up his repressed memory.
Patrick Wilson, who did better playing the conflicted father in the first two ‘Insidious’ movies, is mostly reduced to a secondary role. His potentially compelling character arc from attempting to mend the broken relationship with Dalton to re-discovering the dark truth behind his concealed memory and ultimately righting the wrongs once and for all doesn’t make much of a lasting impression. Rose Byrne, who plays the other prominent character as Josh’s struggling wife (and now ex-wife), is equally undermined in this direct sequel.
The ’Insidious’ franchise isn’t always all doom and gloom since the movies gave us comic relief in the form of Leigh Whannell’s Specs and Angus Sampson’s Tucker, who play the paranormal investigators. But Wilson chose to tone them down way significantly to the point that he suppresses (no pun intended) the comedy part.
While I don’t mind him wanting to get all serious for a change, I still can’t help but feels everything here is too dour for its own good. It’s not like the movie is completely devoid of a sense of humor (a few scenes revolving around Sinclair Daniel’s Chris Winslow come to mind). But the introduction of her character made me miss the playful presence of Specs and Tucker even more.
As with the ‘Insidious’ franchise tradition, the movie is filled with the usual jump scares. Too bad most of them are telegraphed before they happen, particularly if you are a seasoned horror fan. The camera placements aren’t as effective as James Wan and even Whannell, who directed ‘Insidious: Chapter 3’ but franchise regular Joseph Bishara remains the least saving grace for his typically ominous score.
So much for the long wait after all these years. ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ is easily the worst one I have seen in the franchise. Patrick Wilson may have been successful as an actor in some of his past movies. But as a first-time director, he still has a long way to go to realize his full potential behind the camera. With the upcoming spinoff ‘Thread: An Insidious Tale’ already in the works, it remains anyone’s guess to see whether the franchise is still relevant by then.