To put their demons to rest once and for all, Josh Lambert and a college-aged Dalton Lambert must go deeper into The Further than ever before, facing their family’s dark past and a host of new and more horrifying terrors that lurk behind the red door.
All the same, that choice to double down on the franchise’s underlying drama may have been what inspired Wilson to step behind the camera and direct “The Red Door” himself. A classically trained actor who broke through with HBO’s “Angels in America” after an acclaimed stint on Broadway and once made a living as indie cinema’s most unsettled suburban DILF, Wilson has since re-committed himself to a rich career of unrepentant (if impressively varied) schlock. While there used to be a “Little Children” or a “Young Adult” mixed in alongside “The Ledge,” “The Conjuring,” and “Home Sweet Hell,” these days it’s all “Midway,” “Moonfall,” and whatever it is that James Wan might be working on next (all hail King Orm!).
So while it’s pure speculation to suggest that Wilson saw the character-driven conflict behind “The Red Door” as a chance to combine his training with his tastes, it’s like I always say: You can take the boy out of Carnegie Mellon’s Drama program, but you can’t take Carnegie Mellon’s Drama program out of the boy. Indeed, the first act of Wilson’s directorial debut feels more like a hard-nosed grief drama — or at least an Ari Aster movie — than it does the fifth installment of a horror franchise about red-faced demons playing peek-a-boo with Rose Byrne.
Set a decade after the events of “Insidious: Chapter 2,” the story begins with the Lambert family on the verge of unraveling. It seems that repressing a legacy of supernatural nightmares under a single mega-session of hypnotherapy may not have been the best idea, because Josh and his wife (Byrne, dutifully appearing for a few crucial minutes of screentime) have since gotten divorced, and he and Dalton have grown estranged because of the shared brain fog between them. Driving the 18-year-old Dalton seems like Josh’s last chance to salvage their relationship, and — over the course of the movie’s tense but shockingly jolt-free opening half-hour — it’s a chance he blows in heartbreaking fashion.
Simpkins plays Dalton as a non-character so vacant it’s hard to tell if he’s haunted or lobotomized, but there’s real pathos behind Josh’s failure to communicate with his son, and the patience Wilson displays with these scenes reflects a deeper interest in what’s really terrifying these people. Sinclair Daniel brings so much pep to her part as Dalton’s roommate that a comedy seems liable to break out any minute, and if not for the mud-brown cinematography that makes every scene look somewhat diseased (for some reason a staple of low-budget studio horror these days), you might almost forget that you’re watching a Blumhouse joint.
The swirling violins and sudden bangs don’t start until Dalton attends a dopey art class taught by Hiam Abbass, who encourages her students to draw from their subconscious. From that point on, neither of the Lambert men can make it five minutes without astral projecting, as the shared experience brings them closer together even as those pesky demons threaten to tear them apart forever. From the moment Josh is in danger, “The Red Door” is overwhelmed by the feeling that it’s Wilson who’s just trying to get out of this thing alive.