The first Insidious was a major sleeper hit back in 2011. Director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell launched themselves to stardom with the first Saw film, but the filmmakers struggled to find much success afterward. Their 2007 horror film Dead Silence failed to ignite the box office, but has its fans — myself included — and has grown a cult following. It was their tiny $1 million picture Insidious that won over audiences in a time where horror remakes had all but exhausted the genre. Before Wan would cement himself even further with 2013’s The Conjuring, it was the first Insidious that helped relaunch him, and Whannell, back into the filmmaking stratosphere. After three sequels, technically one sequel and two prequels focusing on fan-favorite character Elise Rainier (the incomparable Lin Shaye), the franchise returns to where it all began, with the Lambert family. Serving as a finale to the Lambert storyline, the fifth entry, directed by star Patrick Wilson, making his filmmaking debut, manages to serve up the heightened scares audiences have come to expect, but also serves as a thoughtful exploration/reflection of the franchise as a whole.
It’s been a decade since the events of the first two films that found the Lambert family terrorized by demonic entities roaming around in the purgatory dimension, The Further, with father Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) having any memory of their time in The Further suppressed. In the years since, Josh and Renai (Rose Byrne) have divorced, Josh recently lost his mother and is attempting to mend the strained relationship between him and Dalton. However, when Dalton heads off to college, memories from the past begin to seep through and begin to disrupt reality. Dalton is haunted by visions of a red door, the gateway into The Further, and Josh, unable to put his finger on why his brain has been so foggy the past several years, begins to investigate his origins and the memories he’s had suppressed.
In his directorial debut, Patrick Wilson embodies a good deal of confidence behind the camera. The Red Door is a more emotionally grounded entry in the franchise, with Wilson bringing a sense of naturalism to the drama. Focusing more on the fractured father/son dynamic, Wilson unsurprisingly gets some strong performances out of his actors, but also gives the film room to breathe, allowing for character development to take place instead of an onslaught of jump scares. At college, Dalton meets Chris (Sinclair Daniel), and the two strike up a friendship that gives the fifth Insidious film some levity. It’s this relationship that shows the growth of Dalton, making him into a more interesting character than he seems, initially. The exchanges between Wilson and Byrne have an echo of tragedy behind them as this is a couple audiences have seen together in two prior films, but the fallout of the events of those films is thoughtfully shown to have taken a toll on their marriage. Written by Scott Teems (Halloween Kills) based off a story by series co-creator Leigh Whannell, the film does a skilled job at thematically unpacking the first two films, with Wilson’s strong direction of actors giving further justice to the screenplay. The use of blocking is also rather strong, with Wilson, and cinematographer Autumn Eakin (The Invitation) making great use of open space within the frame.
What’s most surprising about Wilson’s tenure behind the camera is how finely crafted some of the scares are. No doubt taking his longtime work relationship with James Wan to heart, Wilson manages to craft one or two of the finest jolts in the franchise, at least since the first film. Beginning with a mic drop of an extended static shot before smash-cutting to the title card, Wilson may not weave the most consistent sense of atmosphere, but he excels in prolonged tension that is accentuated by some *ahem* insidious jolts. One sequence with Wilson’s Josh trapped in an MRI machine is the film’s unbridled highlight. Utilizing precise camera angles, masterful use of sound and knowing when not to insert a jolt, is the best example of Wilson’s talents as a horror filmmaker.
Another sequence in front of a bay window is an example of how to upend the usual tempo of a jump scare, with the right amount of restraint and finesse. Wilson’s film stands next to Michael B. Jordan’s anime-inspired Creed 3 as the most visually dynamic filmmaking debut by an actor-turned-director this year. Fans of the franchise will find the return of the Lipstick-Face Demon, his favorite Tiny Tim song and others I won’t spoil to be welcoming, but the film doesn’t go about cheap fan service, instead, focusing on the story before letting loose with the ghouls of The Further. The resolution comes a bit too easily with character motivations feeling rushed for the sake of time, but the film does end on a truly satisfying note.
Insidious: The Red Door is a spooky and dramatically satisfying conclusion to the Lambert family storyline. Patrick Wilson shows a good deal of confidence behind the camera, skillfully crafting a number of terrifying jolts and allowing for meaningful character development. While the franchise is bound to continue with spin-offs and other stories involving the mysterious The Further, the story of the Lambert family comes to a fitting end.