We’ve all seen Francis Goya’s painting titled Saturn Devouring His Son. If you haven’t, you should, because my description of it won’t be enough. It features a giant, naked, disheveled old man eating a proportionally smaller human being. Well, he’s in the middle of eating him. He has already chewed off his head, and he is going for the arm. The background is pitch black. But it’s the eyes of this beast that are the stuff of nightmares. As per Greek mythology, the painting tells the story of how Saturn ate his sons so that they couldn’t dethrone him, just like he did to his father, and was only thwarted by his wife, Rhea, as she hid Zeus. The nature of the painting, though, reflects Goya’s dark state of mind as he was still reeling from the shock of the Peninsular War and the Spanish Inquisition. Surprisingly enough, Patrick Wilson makes this the central piece of Insidious: The Red Door while giving it a relevant and wholesome spin.
Back in Insidious Chapter 2, Josh was possessed by the spirit that had been stalking him since he was a child, and he tried to kill his whole family. When the Lamberts beat the curse with the help of Carl, Tucker, Specs, and the ghost of Elise, Josh and Dalton’s memories of that whole ordeal were suppressed. Patrick Wilson’s film takes place almost a decade after that event. Josh’s mother has passed away. Josh and Renai have separated. And although Foster and Kali are welcoming of Josh’s presence, Dalton is completely antagonistic toward him. Josh gets a chance to form a bond with Dalton before he begins college, but both of their pent-up anger prevents them from doing so. Due to the falling out, Josh realizes that he needs medical help and starts working on himself, which leads to some startling personal revelations. Meanwhile, in his attempt to deal with art classes and his debilitating mental health, Dalton accidentally reaches into The Further and awakens the very monster they had buried.
Scott Teems, with Leigh Whannell assisting in the story writing department, links Insidious: The Red Door’s plot with the act of deriving art from trauma without truly reconciling with your past (because that’s where trauma usually comes from). Then they put on a layer of problematic genes being passed on from a father to a son who becomes a father and then passes them on to his son. And that’s where Francis Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Son comes in. The painting’s theme is synonymous with greed and is a result of Goya’s darkest thoughts. Dalton, who wants to be an artist, makes his art from his own darkest experiences. Well, not all of his art is pure nightmare fuel. As indicated by the opening sequence, throughout the last decade, the presence of the Lipstick-Face Demon has faded away from Dalton’s mind and his artwork too. But his grandmother’s death, the separation from his family, and his growing anger towards his father bring it all out. In an immature story, Josh would’ve simply helped him out, thereby making it a “dads are awesome” story. However, Teems is inclined to send the message that parents need their kids, and kids need their parents if they want to live a stable, demon-free life. Therefore, instead of brushing the horrible shared experiences under the proverbial rug, Josh and Dalton learn to face them and live with them.
The Insidious movies have always been about depression, loneliness, and unresolved trauma being a gateway (represented by the doors) for demons and ghosts, i.e., the literal manifestation of our worst impulses. But I really like how Teems, Whannell, and Wilson not only continue Insidious Chapter 3’s theme of tormented artists but also critique the notion that artwork inspired by trauma is cool because it’s not. I mean, I understand how it can sound cool. However, if you start to romanticize something as erosive as trauma because it makes your art somehow edgy or exclusive, then it’s going to completely consume you before you even realize it. So, even though Goya’s painting is famous because of the subtext and the artist’s history, it shouldn’t necessarily inspire others to do the same. Art should be used to heal yourself and others. It shouldn’t be fulfilling because if you are satiated, then you’ll probably never make more art. It should keep you motivated. It should be the light at the end of the tunnel that can guide you through your most tragic moments. And I can’t explain how surprised I am to see such a sentiment being conveyed through a horror film like Insidious: The Red Door.
Patrick Wilson’s turn as a horror movie director for Insidious: The Red Door kind of reminded me of Chad Stahelski and Sam Hargrave’s transition from stunt performers to directors. I know that is a very weird comparison, but hear me out. Much like Chad and Sam, Patrick’s resume is chock full of horror films. He has been in more horror films than a lot of directors have directed horror movies. But instead of flexing everything that he has learned from the films he has been in, he sticks to the basics and prioritizes character moments over jump scares. Even when a character is jump-scared, Wilson reminds you that it is coming from something within. And even though I liked chapters 3 and 4’s departure from the Lipstick-Face Demon’s lair, going back to it was refreshing and creepy at the same time. The practical effects, visual effects, and makeup are totally on point. I am a fan of projectile vomiting in horror films, even though it makes me scream loudly. Cinematographer Autumn Eakin and editors Derek Ambrosi and Michel Aller expertly use out-of-focus shots, lighting, and restrictive camera angles—especially the one in the MRI scanning scene—to great effect. Joseph Bishara’s music does the job. And the simplicity of using negative space (much like Goya’s painting) to illustrate the expansive nature of The Further is splendid.
When it comes to the performances, it’s quite bold of casting directors Susanne Scheel and Terri Taylor, as well as Patrick Wilson, to make Ty Simpkins the star of Insidious: The Red Door after all these years. This is technically his first major role as an adult after being in three franchises as a kid. But Simpkins’ amazing range proves that it wasn’t a fluke. He conveys Dalton’s angst in a relatable way. His performance is restrained for the most part, but he manages to tug at your heartstrings during the scene where Dalton realizes what defines his past. Simpkins’ chemistry with Wilson is very genuine. They just click. I don’t know what can be said about Wilson that hasn’t been said already. The man is an institution at this point. His commitment to the craft is so pure that it’s infectious. I hope he keeps starring in and making more horror movies. As for the supporting cast, Sinclair Daniel deserves a huge shoutout. She provides comic relief without becoming a caricature. She also plays the audience surrogate for those who haven’t seen the previous films, thereby organically giving everyone the opportunity to jump into this story without missing a beat. And, yes, she aces it. I wish we got more of Rose Byrne, though, instead of just hearing her say how she has dealt with the kids in Josh’s absence.
In conclusion, Insidious: The Red Door is a great film and a brilliant directorial debut for Patrick Wilson. If you have seen the previous films, it’s a must-watch. If you haven’t seen the previous films, you can head straight into this one. If you have that kind of time in your life, you should watch the first four films and then check this out. With that out of the way, I want to say that we should cherish good horror films like this. Anything that’s above average should be celebrated because it’s the most cost-effective genre right now. Everything else is just bloated and, hence, struggling to make any impact at the box office while being absolutely boring pieces of art. Even at its worst, horror allows the audience to have a memorable collective viewing experience. And if you don’t care about the financial side of it all, horror allows storytellers to tap into complicated emotions without getting pretentious or inaccessible. Doing so not only allows viewers to be in the loop but also makes them open to topics they’d probably be averse to if they were set in any other genre. Anyway, go watch Insidious: The Red Door and sit through the credits to listen to Patrick Wilson’s horror-rock ballad!