Review: ‘Insidious: The Red Door,’ starring Ty Simpkins, Patrick Wilson, Sinclair Daniel, Hiam Abbass, Andrew Astor and Rose Byrne

July 6, 2023

by Carla Hay

Ty Simpkins in “Insidious: The Red Door” (Photo courtesy of Screen Gems)

“Insidious: The Red Door”

Directed by Patrick Wilson

Culture Representation: Taking place on the East Coast of the United States, the horror film “Insidious: The Red Door” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few Latinos and African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Divorced father Josh Lambert and his estranged teenage son Dalton continue to find terror in their astral projection abilities where they can see and communicate with spirits from a ghostly realm. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of the “Insidious” movie franchise, “Insidious: The Red Door” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of star/director Patrick Wilson and horror movies that dumb everything down.

Patrick Wilson in “Insidious: The Red Door” (Photo by Boris Martin/Screen Gems)

“Insidious: The Red Door” is a poorly constructed and dull horror movie with subplots that go nowhere. The movie’s ending is a mishmash of lazy and ineffective jump scares. It’s disappointing, because the story had potential but is badly mishandled. “Insidious: The Red Door” is an example of a sequel that’s leeching off of the name recognition of the original movie but doesn’t deliver anything close to the quality of the original film.

Directed by Patrick Wilson and written by Scott Teems, “Insidious: The Red Door” is the fifth movie in the “Insidious” series. “Insidious: The Red Door” is also Wilson’s feature-film directorial debut. Wilson co-stars in “Insidious: The Red Door,” as well as the first “Insidious” movie (released in 2010) and 2013’s “Insidious: Chapter 2.” The other previous movies in the series are the prequel “Insidious: Chapter 3” (released in 2015) and 2018’s “Insidious: The Last Key.” Most of the stars from these first two “Insidious” movies are in “Insidious: The Red Door.” Unfortunately, they returned for an embarrassing sequel.

“Insidious: The Red Door” takes place in an unnamed U.S. state on the East Coast and was filmed in New York state and New Jersey. The movie begins shortly after the end of “Insidious: Chapter 2,” when the middle-class Lambert family has gone through another ordeal with evil spirits inhabiting a realm called The Further. Family patriarch Josh Lambert (played by Wilson) and his oldest child Dalton (played by Ty Simpkins) have the abilities to astral project and go into The Further, where they become invisible in the real world but visible to the spirits and other entities that exist in The Further.

Spoiler alert for those who haven’t seen “Insidious: Chapter 2”: Dalton and Josh were both trapped in The Further and managed to escape by the end of the movie. The plots of the first two “Insidious” movies are mentioned in conversations and in flashbacks in “Insidious: The Red Door.” Anyone who sees “Insidious: The Red Door” but not the first two “Insidious” movies will be getting a lot of spoiler information about the first two “Insidious” movies in “Insidious: The Red Door,” whether people like it or not.

The opening scene of “Insidious: The Red Door” shows Josh and 10-year-old Dalton undergoing hypnosis so they won’t remember what happened to them in The Further. Other members of the family are in the same room, including Josh’s wife Renai Lambert (played by Rose Byrne) and Josh’s mother Lorraine (played by Barbara Hershey), who look like they were the ones who wanted this hypnosis to happen. Dalton’s two younger siblings are brother Foster and sister Kali. During this hypnosis, which is performed by an unseen female priest (voiced by Dagmara Dominczyk), Dalton is told that he will only remember that he was in a coma.

The movie then fast-forwards nine years later. Josh and Renai are now divorced. Josh, Renai, Dalton, Foster (played by Andrew Astor) and Kali (played by Juliana Davies) are at a graveside funeral cerrmony for Lorraine, who passed away after an illness. Dalton is now a mopey 19-year-old who’s about to go away to an art college somewhere on the East Coast. The college is not close to where his parents live but it’s far enough away that it requires a road trip. Dalton is a talented illustrator, so you know what that means: Dalton will be sketching a lot of creepy drawings in this movie.

Foster is about 15 or 16 years old. Kali is about 10 or 11 years old. At the graveside, Kali mournfully says that she misses her grandmother. Dalton cynically replies that dead people don’t miss living people. Renai comforts Kali by saying that it’s not true and that Lorraine misses Kali too. Dalton is firm in his belief that there’s no such thing as the afterlife. He will soon change his mind.

Dalton and Josh have a tension-filled relationship where they are barely on speaking terms. Renai suggests that it might be a good idea for Josh to be the one to drive Dalton off to college and perhaps mend their father/son rift during this road trip. After the graveside ceremony, Josh is sitting alone in his parked car when he decides to text Dalton with this road trip proposal. Josh doesn’t notice (but viewers can see) that the ghost of a man is right behind the car. It’s later revealed who this man is. It’s enough to say that he has the names Smash Face and Ben Burton (played by David Call) in the movie.

Dalton reluctantly agrees to let Josh drive him off to college, where Dalton will be living on campus. During the trip, they argue. Josh, whose father abandoned the family when he was a boy, thinks that Dalton is ungrateful and should feel lucky that Josh wants to be a part of Dalton’s life. Dalton thinks that Josh was too much of an absentee father after the divorce.

When they arrive at the campus and start moving Dalton’s possessions in his dorm room, they argue some more. Josh feels hurt and rejected when he sees that Dalton is putting up illustrations on the wall of all of Dalton’s relatives except for Josh. In the middle of this family tension, Dalton’s roommate suddenly arrives. She’s a young woman named Chris Winslow (played by Sinclair Daniel), who is talkative, sarcastic and a little offbeat.

There’s a not-very-believable explanation that Chris was assigned to this room because she has a unisex name, and the college’s housing staff assumed that she was male. (Most colleges have a policy for first-year students to have on-campus roommates who are of the same gender. ) Dalton and Josh say that they didn’t expect to her to be female, so Chris graciously says that she’ll make other living arrangements with the campus’ housing staff.

After the argument that Dalton and Josh have on the day that Dalton moves into his dorm room, Dalton dismisses Josh with a brusque comment when Josh is about to leave: “No wonder Mom divorced you. Thanks for the ride.” “Insidious: The Red Door” eventually shows why Josh and Renai got divorced, in a scene that’s a ripoff from a well-known horror movie from the 1980s. (Hint: It’s a movie based on a Stephen King novel.)

Josh has no memory of the horror experiences that he’s had, but he senses that there are parts of his life that are unexplained, dark secrets. He mentions early in the movie that he feels like his brain has become foggy and that he’s losing his memory skills. Later in the movie, there’s a fairly insipid scene of Josh testing his memory skills by taping family photos backwards on a window in his house and trying to remember who is in each photo.

A red door is a portal to The Further, but don’t expect much to be happening with the “red door” part of “Insidious: The Red Door” until the last third of the film. The first two-thirds of the movie are a boring slog of Dalton and Chris adjusting to college life and to each other as roommates. Dalton starts to have hallucinations, while Chris tries to get Dalton to open up about himself. Dalton, just like Josh, feels there are secretive things in his life that are buried in his psyche, but he doesn’t quite know what they are.

Expect to see repetitive scenes of people seeing ghosts and then “waking up” as if they just had a nightmare. It happens to Josh. It happens to Dalton. And it eventually happens to Chris. There’s a time-wasting scene where Josh has a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, and visions from his past come back to haunt him. Dr. Phillip Brower (played by E. Roger Mitchell), who gives Josh the MRI scan, tells that Josh was asleep the entire time that Josh insists that he was being attacked by menacing people.

Dalton is anti-social and doesn’t want to go a frat house party thrown by a fraternity that Josh was a member of when Josh was in college. Chris doesn’t really care about the frat party either, but she convinces Josh that they should go to this party together, if only to make fun of the ridiculousness that will happen at the party. It’s at this party that Josh begins to find out that he can see dead people.

There’s an insecure dork with the name Nick the Dick (played by Peter Dager), who’s some kind of leader of the fraternity. At the party, Dalton witnesses a student (played by Stephen Gray) vomiting in Nick’s bathroom toilet. There’s a backstory about this student that’s one of the unfinished subplots. The main purpose of introducing this mystery character seems to be to have a gross-out scene later involving much more vomit. Nick gets into a conflict with Chris, who kicks Nick in the groin after Nick calls her a “clown.”

“Insidious: The Red Door” also wastes time showing Dalton in class sessions taught by his pretentious and frequently cruel art teacher Professor Armagan (played by Hiam Abbass), who seems to enjoy humiliating students and expelling them from her class whenever she feels like it. However, Dalton is spared from the wrath of Professor Armagan because she like his drawings. Not surprisingly, Dalton’s drawings become increasingly macabre when Professor Armagan orders her students to dig deep into their souls and draw what they feel.

Dalton ends up drawing a red door with a demon outside. He accidentally cuts himself after making this illustration, and the blood becomes a long stain on the drawing. You can easily predict what will happen next. (Hint: It involves The Further and a lot of “daddy issues.”) But all of it is just so jumbled and ridiculous, with one flimsy horror scene after another. The average “Insidious” fan could’ve written a better screenplay than this mess.

“Insidious: The Red Door” also throws in cameos of familiar characters from “Insidious” Chapter 2,” as if these cameos will somehow make “Insidious: The Red Door” any better. They don’t. Lin Shaye, who has the role of psychic/medium Elise Rainier, shows up in archival video footage and in someone’s visions. Her screen time in “Insidious: The Red Door” is less than five minutes. Her appearance in “Insidious: The Red Door” is expected, but ultimately it’s very underwhelming.

Leigh Whannell, who wrote the first four “Insidious” movies, returns with Angus Sampson as their respective characters of Specs and Tucker, two paranormal investigators, who are only seen on a TV screen in “Insidious: The Red Door.” Steve Coulter reprises his role as Carl (a former colleague of Elise’s), in a cameo where Carl shows up at Lorraine’s funeral and has a brief conversation with Josh, who doesn’t remember Carl. All these cameos do is remind “Insidious” fans that the first two “Insidious” movies are still the best of the series.

The acting performances in “Insidious” The Red Door” are adequate. Simpkins has the most difficult role to play, since his Dalton character goes through the most emotional and physical ups and downs. Wilson has some depth as Josh, but this character has become an annoying whiner going through a midlife crisis. Daniel’s Chris character, who acts like she dropped in from a young-adult sitcom, is an awkward sidekick to Dalton. “Insidious: The Red Door” keeps bungling what could have been an intriguing story. It will make “Insidious” fans think that the door should remain shut on these characters who were brought back for a painfully awful movie.

Screen Gems will release “Insidious: The Red Door” in U.S. cinemas on July 7, 2023.

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