The most popular horror film at the worldwide box office since the pandemic started, Insidious 5 has been a huge hit in the three days since release; the public adherence to known brand names seems to have kept the audience keen for more of the scary faces, loud noises and references to doors and keys that the franchise offers. This is actually the conclusion of a trilogy started in 2010, and a direct sequel to 2013’s Insidious Chapter 2; entries 3 and 4 were prequels looking into the team of paranormal investigators featured during the first two films, namely Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye) and assistants Specs and Tucker (Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson). Having been elevated to centre stage, these characters do get briefly reprised here, but the focus is shifted back on the Lambert family, who were tormented by a red-faced demon in the first two films, and are still having something of a tough time of it today.
It’s ten years after Insidious 2, which is a coincidence since it’s also ten years after Insidious 2 in the movie. Josh Lambert (Patrick Wilson) and his wife Renai (Rose Byrne) have divorced, and Josh is helping his grown up son Dalton (still Ty Simpkins) with his move away from the family home into the nightmare of further education. We saw that Josh and Dalton were hypnotised after being possessed, and now have no memories of the awful events that unfolded, but the audience remember long before the flashbacks arrive. That means a Devil’s Advocate-style problem where we spend a large chunk of Insidious 5 watching Josh and Dalton figure out what we already knew when we sloped into the theatre, and although the audience have a superior position to the characters, Insidious 5 kind of ends where you hoped it might start.
So there’s two strands here; Dalton getting his repressed memories tweaked by being in an art therapy class and frat party, and his dad having a similar experience when he goes for an MRI. The film’s best scare comes when a demon sneaks into the machine with Josh to attack him in the most enclosed of spaces. The two investigations coincide when Josh astral-projects himself into non-safe-space The Further to rescue his son, fighting off various dark forces as he does so. Wilson stars and directs here, and at least he seems fully tuned into the family dynamics, even if the overall narrative feels less than essential.
As with The Conjuring universe, after the success of the second film, the Insidious films feel like they became all filla and no killa; the core narrative has been watered down with prequels and side-missions to the point where it’s hard to discern if we’re moving backwards or forward at all. Insidious: The Red Door takes forever to get to The Further, but we still don’t know much more about who the demons are or why they’re bothering to torment the Lambert family. Too much information, of course, might dispel the creepy atmosphere, but Insidious: The Red Door doesn’t have enough meat on its bones in terms of developing what was a very creepy original movie. The box-office numbers may stack up, but creatively, the potency of the Wan/Whannell formula has become diluted and diffuse. At least for those who enjoy the unexpected musical interludes featured in these films will appreciate the closing-credits cover-version of Shakespeare’s Sister’s hit single Stay, with vocals by Wilson himself, which sends the audience home with an indulgent smile…