It’s not revelatory to say that the horror genre is currently undergoing a renaissance. In 2023 alone, there have been instant cult classics like Skinamarink and Cobweb, big hits like M3GAN and Scream VI, and memorable foreign entries like When Evil Lurks that have all contributed to the increased popularity of the genre. Hell, even misfires like The Last Voyage of the Demeter are more interesting than usual, and showcase an ambition and creativity that was largely lacking in horror movies from a decade ago.
Yet, there’s one horror film that, despite being one of the highest-grossing movies of the year, has been criminally ignored. When it was released on July 7, 2023, Insidious: The Red Door was largely scorned by critics, with many claiming it was derivative and not really that scary. It was promptly overshadowed by July’s other major horror hit, Talk to Me, which, with its unique premise, memorable visuals of young people becoming possessed by a disembodied hand, and clever marketing from boutique horror studio A24, became the critical darling of horror.
Talk to Me deserved all the accolades it got; it’s a creepy tale of generational trauma told very well. But so is Insidious: The Red Door; it’s just scarier and less “artistic” than Talk to Me and other movies like it. In other words, it’s a true meat-and-potatoes horror movie, one that is first and foremost concerned with scaring the hell out of you. It’s by far the best movie in the largely disappointing Insidious franchise, and it’s a 2023 movie that deserves a second look and a critical reevaluation.
It seems you can’t make a modern horror movie nowadays without it being about trauma. A24’s horror movies didn’t start this trend, but they popularized it with Hereditary and Midsommar. Even sillier horror movies like M3GAN pay lip service to some element of trauma the protagonist has to face and overcome before the movie ends. I don’t mind this as a trope — it can make the terror more visceral and existential — but its too often prioritized over what horror movies are supposed to do: scare the hell out of you.
The Red Door doesn’t make that mistake. While it sheds light on the generational trauma between fathers and sons, particularly that of Patrick Wilson’s Josh and Ty Simpkins’ Dalton, it does so in a way that foregrounds the horror and delivers the thrills you’d expect from a movie like this. The Red Door is an honest horror movie; there are cheap jump scares, yes, but genuinely creepy scenes, too, like Wilson being slowly stalked by an approaching ghost while he sits in a car.
What does that have to do with trauma? Nothing, and that’s the point. The movie is free to be a scary roller coaster ride, yet it also does adequately address the strained relationship between Josh and Dalton, and how that links back to Josh’s own troubled relationship with his father in a way that feels earned and honest. The Red Door is a rare thing: it’s an unpretentious horror movie that’s still about something. It can be superficially enjoyable, yet it also has a depth and subtext that’s there if you want to look for it.
Every horror franchise has their recognizable villain: It has Pennywise, Halloween has Michael Myers, Child’s Play has Chucky, etc. Insidious has the Lipstick-Face Demon, who is also known as the Red-Face Demon or The Man With Fire in His Face. Whatever you call him, he’s instantly recognizable since he’s part of one of the most terrifying jump scares in the entire history of horror movies. Don’t believe me? Just watch below:
Yet, due to a combination of budgetary restraints and lack of imagination among the makers of the previous Insidious movies, he was never really used that effectively. The Red Door changes that by making him the primary antagonist of the movie, and a formidable force to be reckoned with. He’s not just a jump scare this time, or hiding in the shadows; in The Red Door, he’s aggressive, present, and all-caps EVIL — and you finally feel the full force of his menace in this movie.
As a genre, horror is known to have small budgets that don’t hinder the storytelling process. In fact, that handicap is often an asset as it forces filmmakers to think more creatively given the limited tools and resources they have to pull off their scares. Just look at this year’s Skinamarink; it cost $15,000 to make and is one of the creepiest movies ever made.
That’s not the case with the Insidious movies. The first movie cost $1.5 million, while the first sequel’s price tag was around $5 million. James Wan, as good as he sometimes can be as a director, let the seams show in the first two entries. In their depiction of the purgatory dimension called The Further, these movies had their casts running around in what looked like empty gymnasiums filled with smoke and cheap set dressing. The small budgets ruined the illusion, and took me out of the horror fantasy they were trying to evoke.
At $16 million, The Red Door doesn’t have that much more of a budget, but it’s enough for it to look and feel like a legit haunted house movie. The Further and its many demons are more realized, scarier, and bloodier, and the movie looks better, too. It’s, dare I say it, cinematic, in a way the other four movies aren’t, and that’s due in part to the increased budget that director and star Patrick Wilson has to play with to pull off his vision.
We all have certain things or situations that scare the hell out of us. For some, it’s bugs or rats; for others, it’s ghosts or ax murderers. For me, it’s being trapped in an enclosed space. There’s nothing more terrifying than being stuck in a small hole or crevice that I can’t get out of no matter what I do. Throw in an entity that’s out to get me and I turn into an apprehensive puddle of jelly within seconds.
The Red Door contains a scene like this early on as Wilson’s Josh lies down to get an MRI in a quiet hospital room. MRI machines are enormous and claustrophobic; there’s only just enough room for the single person that’s being inspected and scanned. That’s why it’s all the more unsettling to see something else in there with Josh, a barely visible and audible presence that gradually gets closer and louder.
Wilson adds to the tension by having the lights go out, leaving Josh in the dark, truly alone and vulnerable. What’s in there with him? And how can he possibly react to it when he can barely see or move?
What happens next? Well, you’ll just have to watch for yourself. Insidious: The Red Door is streaming on Netflix right now. It’s currently one of the most popular movies on the streaming service, and with good reason: it’s a good, old fashioned horror movie, and you won’t be disappointed if you watch it.