If you want jolts, you’ve come to the right place, but if you’re looking for human depth or drama, try something else. This is typical of Insidious, the horror franchise that’s essentially a jump-scare machine at this point. With Leigh Whannell once again in the writer’s chair and the film’s star, Patrick Wilson, making his directorial debut, Insidious: The Red Door is another conveyor belt of frights that lives up to the original, even if it fails to deliver in storytelling, which this time, concerns a family separated by the ghostly fog of doubt.
The movie –which topped the box office this past weekend– doesn’t have much new or interesting to say compared with the first two James Wan-directed movies. Two prequels followed those films so Red Door marks a return to the Lambert family. After a brief recap on how this supernatural stuff works– something about a twilight realm called “The Further”– we pick back up with the murky subplot. Josh Lambert (Wilson) accidentally tried to kill his children in a previous entry, which causes his oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) to cut ties. Understandably he wants to make amends, so he decides to drive his surly teenager across the country to college.
Teens just love going on road trips with their parents, but before they can argue about who’s on aux, Dalton starts seeing dead bodies and soon becomes utterly consumed by them. Nothing says father-son bonding like a trip to The Further. The place is a carnival of grief, with creepy dolls in bird cages, contortionists in clown makeup and entities with their skin burned off. It’s a manifestation of trauma, since every horror flick since Hereditary needs to have Freudian undertones and long monologues about how pain stems from family lineage. Of course, the horrific situation gives dad the chance to save his son and maybe even their relationship. It’s all nonsense, but luckily the script ditches the jargon for a more intriguing and violent second half.
The Red Door turns out to be a fitting end to the franchise thanks to some unusually committed performances for a popcorn splatterfest. Simpkins is an uncommonly mature actor for his age, and the film would not be effective without such a solid performer. But the movie really belongs to Wilson. A star who has seen more paranormal cases than Ethan Hunt has seen villains (he’s also a big part of The Conjuring universe), he knows that softness and stillness are far more effective than hysteria and hallucination, and he brings just the right amount of intensity to the role.
As a director, he maintains the Insidious aesthetic with eerie production design and negative space. In what is basically a string of startles, Wilson creates a sense of dread not through what is seen on screen, but what could possibly leap out of the shadows. His control over the camera is particularly superb for a first-time director, and he clearly knows audiences are most jarred out of their seats after lulls of silence. There’s not much in the way of emotional tension or understanding of the tormented souls, and obscure lines like “you must face your past” and “you must remember the things that hurt,” don’t help matters. Neither does a finale that ties everything together too neatly. Still, when the action kicks in, all you can think about is what’s lurking behind the next door.
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