It’s been ten years since the Lambert family last encountered the dangerous, demonic forces that swirled around them and which sought to drag them into the ‘Further’. Both Josh Lambert and his eldest son Dalton had their memories altered so that they couldn’t be haunted by those forces, but the gnawing depth of that missing information has fractured the family. Josh and wife Renai have divorced, both Josh and Dalton have kept each other at arms’ length and even the death of matriarch Lorraine can’t really bring them together except for the day for the actual funeral.
Renai encourages Josh to spend more time with Dalton, but as their son is off to art college, the best that Josh can do is drive him there. Separately, both Josh and dalton are trying to find answers to what’s missing from their lives, but their attempt to reconnect is going to trigger memories that should best have remained buried.
Something lurks in the ‘Further’ and behind the symbolic Red Door… and it wants back into the world…
While not reinventing the wheel nor pushing the boundaries of the genre, the first two Insidious films were very effective horror movies – well acted, well-scripted and genuinely clever and creepy in equal measures. It was also one of the rare cases where a sequel doesn’t feel wholly (unholy?) opportunistic and actually folds so perfectly back into the original ethereal material – creating interesting layers and wrinkles on an extended canvas – that it immediately makes you want to watch the first again.
A third and fourth film inevitably followed, taking us away from the central Lambert family, first focusing on the prequel concept tied to the demonic elements of the series and then the fourth film featuring the younger days of popular supporting character, the psychic Elise Rainier (played as an adult by Lin Shaye) and her own previous experiences before meeting the Lamberts. Both those latter entries were competent horror outings but felt like side-stories. The fifth in the Insidious series entitled The Red Door returns us to the present in terms of continuity and on a quality level it falls somewhere in the middle of the franchise – it is neither a disappointment nor a great surprise, taking place in the same universe and reflecting on some of the legacy characters and situations, while never feeling as vital to the over-all saga… a phantasmic placeholder if you will.
The Lamberts return, though, as a splintered family. Josh Lambert (Wilson) and wife Renai (Rose Byrne) are divorced though with a reasonably amicable relationship. The marital stresses come down to the fact that Josh and son Dalton had their memories of the demonic encounters wiped from their mind, with both the father and son reacting in almost literal soul-searching ways to the missing time and sense of being adrift. Renai does remember the truth – and to some extent, so does their other son Foster (Andrew Astor) – but cannot reveal the truth for fear of the negative consequences). With Josh and Dalton fighting the same battle, it’s the chasm between them that the story seeks to repair both geographically (Dalton’s off to college) and emotionally. Essentially, The Red Door sets out the way in which they both take initiatives to remember and how they’ll eventually have to reconcile to beat their familial troubles.
The film’s promotion says that it goes ‘deeper than ever before’ into the ‘Further’. Practically, it does nothing of the sort, conjuring up barely a lip-service version of the realm which is fine in the moment, but effectively a waking-dream, haunted-house-level alternative to the more desolate and bleak nature of the realm introduced in the earlier films…
Patrick Wilson is a solid actor who seems to have made a nice sideline in horror franchises (he’s also a mainstay of the Conjuring movies, playing a cinematic version of infamous ghost-hunter Ed Warren). However, for this chapter he’s mainly asked to walk around looking confused and frustrated. Wilson also has double-duty as a director and though it does little more than hit the basic notes, he’s invested in the story and the film knows the niche it’s going for… and ploughs it well enough. (Along with Swedish band Ghost, Wilson also provides the vocals for a cover of Stay with Me – originally sung by Shakespeare’s Sister – and which has always felt like it would be an organic fit for the themes of the franchise).
Ty Simpkins reprises the role of Dalton, last seen as a troubled young boy and now something of a brooding young adult and imbues the inner turmoil with long, lingering looks and a fevered brow as he paints images that are beautiful, scary and dark but for which he can’t quite find the reason. His acerbic art teacher tells him to channel his deepest memories, which of course is as a phenomenally bad idea – just as Josh’s psychiatrist suggesting meditation for the same introspective reason. There’s a semi-platonic new friendship with Chris (Sinclair Daniel) when they’re thrown together after some name-confusion regarding their sharing of a room, but other than a few obnoxious frat-boys and Rose Bryne, Lin Shaye and Steve Coulter returning to give support along with youngest Lambert poppet Kali played by Juliana Davies (through what feels very much like simple cameos) the cast is kept remarkably contained. (And it’s somewhat disingenuous to have Lin Shaye on the poster itself as she’s in less than two minutes – the final scene – of the entire film).
The film’s promotion says that it goes ‘deeper than ever before’ into the ‘Further’. Practically, it does nothing of the sort, conjuring up barely a lip-service version of the realm which is fine in the moment, but effectively a waking-dream, haunted-house-level alternative to the more desolate and bleak nature of the realm introduced in the earlier films. Though there are some decent jump-scares and good use of lighting and camera-work, the story itself seems to follow genre tropes, sometimes feeling like an 1980s script that’s been given a wash and brush up and tweaked to fit. It attempts to double-back into the earlier films, recreating a key scene in the Lamberts’ basement (with the older Dylan now mistaking the possessed Josh for a more conventional abusive parent in his visions), but it all lacks the subversive impact it could have done. The Red Door is marketed as the final Insidious movie, though it obviously leaves the premise a little ajar because one suspects – while there’s any life left in it – there will be the temptation to continue in some shape or form. Consider it, then, a makeshift but frustratingly PG13 epilogue to what has gone before. It’s fine for existing fans with moments that work well – but generally offering much less for the casual viewer. Whether it goes ‘Further’ and tiptoes through more tulips, or is finally laid to rest, only time will tell.
Insidious: The Red Door is currently available on VOD services such as Apple, Vudu, Amazon Prime, Roku, etc. It will be released on DVD on 12th September…
- Production Design / VFX8