We all know how every film is a product of its time. But that is especially true with the horror genre. After the creative plateauing and commercial fatigue of both analog and gore horror, the acclaim of A24’s “Hereditary” saw a string of films that wreak horror from the inherited trauma and mental illness that plague its characters. “Insidious: The Red Door,” the latest and possibly the final chapter in the Insidious films, acts as a direct sequel to the 2013 entry. The story, thus, picks up a decade after Josh (Wilson), Renai (Rose Byrne), and Dalton (Ty Simpkins) have their life-altering experience in the empty nothingness of the Further.

A regular for the James Wan-directed horror films, Wilson makes his directorial debut with “Insidious: The Red Door.” Apart from the horror beats that he draws from the sets of the earlier films he also performs a hard-rock number over the credits. However, the same visual flair that Wan mastered doesn’t nearly translate here. There are fairly conventional yet workable father-son dynamics that the film sets on earlier on, built on the shared traumatic experience that the family undergoes in those first two films. Now a fully grown emo art student, Dalton goes through his coming-of-age notions while filling in the blanks between the blip he and his father experienced back when they were hypnotized into the Further.

But the film never really delves deeper into expanding the mechanics of what caused the hypnosis in the first place while countlessly using it as a narrative sheath for its desultory plot. The first half is where the film echoes some of the more memorably staged scenes in the franchise. A scene with Josh trapped in an MRI machine especially stands out, easily being the most well-choreographed scene in the film. After all, the initial Insidious films drove their unsettling essence from scenes that felt contained, despite being explicitly staged.

Insidious- The Red Door Review
A still from Insidious: The Red Door (2023).

For instance, the “Don’t You Dare” living room sequence in the second film – despite restoring to conventional beats of thundering music and jump scares – remains memorable because of its well-elaborated spatial staging. The Red Door has a few interesting ideas that creep up the tension, but they eventually get dialed down owing to the lack of well-thought-out execution. The story uses a hazy figure which coalesces slowly, mostly out of a blur. But the setup feels neither neat nor edgy enough to leave you wanting more.

In another scene, a bleak figure comes crashing through the glass as Josh draws closer to a string of pictures held against a window while trying to make sense of the paranormal activities around him. It doesn’t feel insidious, but a scene right out of a 90s cop thriller.

The brain fog that the father and son experience eventually leads them to a parallel-reality-induced fear zone. There’s the return of repressed decade-old family demons, yet even more familiar hijinks techniques. However, neither the horror remain enticing nor do the emotional dynamics ever feel enthralling enough for you to care. As a first-time feature, Wilson surely doesn’t do a bad job behind the camera. But there’s nothing remotely resembling the sense of explosive energy that another first-time director, Michael B. Jordan, brought to a well-established franchise earlier this year in “Creed III.” The genre demands a different set of values and nuance, of course, but the difference that sets the two films apart is in how they each justify the continuation of a popular saga. 

Another lackluster choice is the introduction of a character named Chris, Dalton’s new roommate, played by a charismatic Sinclair Daniel. What was surprisingly frisky about the James Wan films was how artfully unsettling they felt despite being laced with supernatural elements. But the characters (at least in those two first films) never felt out of place despite feeling highly replaceable.

“Insidious: The Red Door” highly reinforces the latter, and being the fifth film in an overblown franchise, it neither justifies its presence nor does it offer anything insidious. The shift from the generational trauma angle to the watered-down haunted house supernatural approach feels insipid, as the story soon turns into a slog. It inevitably results in a film that, although stems out of the 2010s era of horror, finds itself caught up in the very evolution that the genre has undergone since.

Read More: How ‘The Exorcist’ Established its Status as an Enduring Horror Classic

Insidious: The Red Door (2023) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes
Insidious: The Red Door (2023) Movie Cast: Ty Simpkins, Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne
Where to watch Insidious: The Red Door

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