A lot has changed since the release of James Wan’s Insidious in 2010. Released into a landscape of hard R-rated horror films mining the ‘torture porn’ subgenre that James Wan and his collaborator Leigh Whannell had helped to shepherd in, in the first place with the release of the ludicrously successful Saw in 2004, Insidious was a PG-13-rated film that saw Wan and Whannell looking to generate suspense rather than shock, with a film more indebted to Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist than it was to any of its more grisly peers. The result was wildly successful, with Insidious launching a franchise in its own right, legitimizing both Wan and Whannell as bona fide filmmakers, and working alongside fellow suspense-driven franchise Paranormal Activity to make Jason Blum’s still-blossoming production company, Blumhouse Productions, a household name.
Now thirteen years and four films later, as James Wan has gone off to make big-budget films like Aquaman, and Leigh Whannell has become an incredible filmmaker in his own right with works like The Invisible Man, lead-actor Patrick Wilson has taken up the mantle of director for the fifth and final installment of the franchise, Insidious: The Red Door. In many ways, The Red Door is something of an introspective moment: a reflection of just how far so many of the creatives involved with the franchise have come, as well as how defining Blumhouse’s catalog of films has become.
Top 5 Things about Insidious: The Red Door
5. The Legacy Sequel Story Elements
From Star Wars to Top Gun to even Avatar, legacy sequels have become one of the most surefire commodities in Hollywood over the course of the last decade, dusting off aging franchises that audiences may harbor some hidden nostalgia for and returning them to the limelight.
With Insidious, it never really left the public eye (the last film, Insidious: The Last Key, was released in 2018), but its original central characters had been notably absent from the prior two installments. Insidious: Chapter 3 and Insidious: The Last Key were both prequels to the original film, meaning that the original leading trio of Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, and Ty Simpkins were not featured. As a result, with all three of them returning in The Red Door, the film gets to have its cake and eat it, too, playing as both a straightforward continuation and a legacy sequel featuring returning characters.
These elements work quite well within the film. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne’s respective stars have only risen since the release of the first film and getting Ty Simpkins, who was only nine-years-old when the first film released, goes a long way toward anchoring the film’s central relationship between Wilson and Simpkins’ characters in hard-earned emotionality.
4. Rose Byrne’s Performance
Rose Byrne is used sparsely throughout Insidious: The Red Door, but when it comes to an actress as talented as Byrne, a little goes a long way. Like the film’s own endlessly reliable pinch-hitter, Byrne shows up and lends some much-needed gravitas and emotional intensity to The Red Door when it needs it most. Best of all, Wilson seems acutely aware of how impactful her performance is, with his direction and her performance feeling as if they are in total synchrony with one another.
3. The Thematic Work
Speaking of synchrony, Insidious: The Red Door is unexpectedly adept at tackling some fairly weighty themes. While previous films in the franchise have never shied away from equating the generational hauntings and supernatural occurrences to larger ideas, The Red Door’s use of its titular hauntings and the repression of them as a way to touch upon themes such as masculinity and generational grief is succinct and affecting.
While the script as a whole leaves more than a bit to be desired (a failure to escalate the stakes in any efficient manner across the story leaves the film’s first two acts feeling stagnant and the third feeling far too rushed, emotional beats are written in relentlessly broad and flaccid fashion, etc.), Leigh Whannell, Scott Teems, and Patrick Wilson himself absolutely deserve credit for their story work here and the way in which they seize this opportunity.
2. Ty Simpkins and Sinclair Daniel’s Performances
Ty Simpkins spent several years as the go-to child actor of Hollywood. From Insidious to Jurassic World to Iron Man 3 to The Nice Guys, Simpkins built of up a ridiculously impressive filmography over the course of just a few years and did genuinely great work in these films. So to see Simpkins now all grown up and effectively getting to be the lead of Insidious: The Red Door is terrific in its own right, and all the better because he’s great in it.
The aforementioned structural issues with the script leave his character out-to-dry at times, but Simpkins is never not doing a wonderful job of selling Dalton’s internal turmoil and strife. To top it off, Simpkins also has excellent chemistry with his primary co-star, Sinclair Daniel, who is equally wonderful. The two are charming and compelling to watch together and essentially carry most of the narrative’s second act.
1. Patrick Wilson’s Direction
Patrick Wilson has long been one of the most reliable names in Hollywood. From Joel Schumacher’s Phantom of the Opera to Zack Snyder’s Watchmen to James Wan’s The Conjuring films, whether the film he was in was good or not, one could always rely on Wilson to deliver genuinely terrific work, regardless of the circumstances. Fortunately, the same can very much be said of his directorial debut work with Insidious: The Red Door.
Stepping into the incredibly large shoes left by former franchise-helmers like James Wan and Leigh Whannell, Patrick Wilson brings an assured hand and confident tonal presence to the film from its very opening frames. Aside from being a leading man in numerous horror films, Wilson also clearly did his homework here. From his use of light and shadow to sculpt a scare to he and cinematographer Autumn Eakin cinematographer with multiple singular sequences in The Red Door featuring greater hand-crafted suspense than numerous theatrically-released horror films of the past few years.
In Wilson’s hands, the infamous ‘The Further’ (a nega-dimension of the Insidious franchise in which ghosts roam) becomes less a narrative mechanic and much more a nebulous intersection of art, emotion, and theme in palpable fashion. The script does absolutely leave him short-handed at times, but Wilson steers entirely into the skid and delivers a work that functions both as a uniquely cinema-of-attractions, classically crafted, thematically saturated horror film and as a fantastic demo reel for Patrick Wilson: horror auteur in his own right.
While Insidious: The Red Door does have its fair share of shortcomings in its writing, execution, and editing, it is such a distinct encapsulation of a singular moment-in-time within the horror genre, visually captured with such verve and ambition that it’s hard not to admire it. Like the Hammer Horror films of decades past, Blumhouse’s library of modern horror films feels destined to be watched and re-watched for years to come. And Insidious: The Red Door will fit snuggly into that catalog, destined for late-night television and an audience of sleepless sleepovers for years to come.