Sunday, May 26, 2024

Movie Review: ‘Insidious: The Red Door’ is a Satisfying Conclusion for the Series

Directors: Patrick Wilson
Writers: Scott Teems (Story by: Leigh Whannell & Scott Teems)
Stars: Ty Simpkins, Patrick Wilson, Hiam Abbass

Synopsis: The Lamberts must go deeper into The Further than ever before to put their demons to rest once and for all.

James Wan’s Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 2 are two of the scariest films I’ve ever seen. Full stop. I don’t get scared easily because I find most horror movie tropes to be rather predictable (the creaking door, the loud boos, the fake-outs, the characters going into places they’re not supposed to go). Still, Wan and screenwriter Leigh Whannell created an atmosphere that twisted each trope on its head. You couldn’t guess where the jumpscares were coming from, you couldn’t figure out if what they were seeing was indeed real or a part of their imagination. The most potent image of the franchise is a daylight shot of Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) being haunted by the Lipstick-Face Demon (Joseph Bishara) standing behind him. Of course, he doesn’t see it, but Renai (Rose Byrne) and Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) do. That shot, and the incredible Lipstick demon have been ingrained in my memory.

With Insidious: The Red Door, Patrick Wilson returns to his iconic role of Josh Lambert and directs for the first time. The film acts as a direct sequel to Insidious: Chapter 2, where Josh and his son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) have had their memories of the events of the first two films erased by Carl (Steve Coulter) after Josh was possessed by the spirit of serial killer Parker Crane (Tom Fitzpatrick) and attempted to kill his family. Ten years have passed since, and Josh is now divorced from Renai and has difficulty connecting with his family, especially Dalton, who is now attending college to study art.

During his art class, Dalton’s professor (Hiam Abbass) does an exercise in which she wants her students to go deep into their memories and draw what they see. Dalton becomes haunted by the vision of a Red Door and of a man with a hammer. He doesn’t understand what’s happening, but it slowly haunts him and Josh, who also begins to experience visions of creatures from “The Further.” The rest of the movie is fairly conventional, but Wilson and screenwriter Scott Teems keep it engaging through its character dynamics.

Insidious: The Red Door works well because audiences are already deeply invested in the characters Wan and Whannell created thirteen years ago with the release of the original Insidious. Wilson develops Josh’s relationship with Dalton thoughtfully, with the first act concentrated on what went wrong between him and his son. Dalton deeply resents his father because he hasn’t been there for him in the events that transpired in Chapter 2. But he can’t blame his dad for not being here – he simply doesn’t remember what happened beyond his son’s coma in the first film.

Wilson remains in top form as Josh, with a perfect understanding of what made the character memorable in the first two movies. He may not be in the movie as much as Simpkins, but he has his fair share of memorable sequences, including the biggest highlight of the movie, set in an MRI machine. Of course, it’s the perfect setting for a claustrophobic moment, where he’s trapped inside a contraption that, predictably, loses power. What happens next will not only shock but terrify you to your core. Simpkins is also great as Dalton, who has been relatively underused in the franchise thus far. In the first one, he was in a coma, after all. In the sequel, they slightly expand on the character by making him go “to the dark place,” but he finally feels like a fully-formed protagonist.

Unfortunately, the MRI scene was about the only legitimate scare I had watching Insidious: The Red Door. Wilson doesn’t possess the same skill as Wan (and Whannell, who directed Insidious: Chapter 3) when he made the first two movies. Wan consistently subverts audience expectations and puts jumpscares in positions where you least anticipate them. That’s why the Lipstick-Face Demon appearance was effective and always turned out to be the scariest part of the non-Wan-directed prequels. That shot of the demon at the end of Insidious: The Last Key may be slightly ridiculous, but Joseph Bishara always knows how to play it in the most effectively scary way. Bishara has also composed the score for each Insidious film, bringing his arsenal again for The Red Door. It’s always effective, particularly when he has to punctuate some of the scares by toning the music down and then bringing it back up.

And while the movie devotes lots of focus to Dalton’s journey and his relationship with his father and roommate Chris (Sinclair Daniel), The Red Door, unfortunately, forgets Renai for most of the runtime and instead relegates her to being an exposition-delivery machine. All she does is spoon-feed crucial exposition to Josh that audiences already know instead of giving her the agency she had in the first two Insidious pictures. The divorce sounded like an interesting storyline in Josh and Renai’s arc to explore, but Wilson and Teems barely scratch what made the couple want to separate when they still clearly have feelings for each other. Of course, we understand why they separated, but the explanation still feels unfulfilling and instead brings more questions than answers. And with how this movie wraps up, there are a lot of questions that Wilson seemingly leaves in suspense.

Then the third act arrives and feels pitifully rushed compared to the slow-burn approach Wilson opted to adopt in the first two acts. It isn’t as strong as the rest of the movie, but we’ve got the Lipstick Demon to hold on to, and that creature is terrifying in and of itself. The movie could just have him go BOO! at random moments for 100 minutes, and it would be one of the scariest movies of all time. Insidious has the creatures and the atmosphere that made the franchise a memorable staple in contemporary horror cinema. And while Insidious: The Red Door isn’t the strongest film of the franchise (nor the weakest, that award still goes out to Chapter 3), it still feels like a satisfying conclusion to a series of films that have continuously terrified us for over a decade. That alone is worth remembering.

Grade: B-

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