This article contains mild spoilers for Insidious: The Red Door. If you've yet to watch the movie, and don't want to know anything ahead of time, turn back now.
Patrick Wilson is no stranger to scary movies, having fronted horror franchises The Conjuring and Insidious over the past 13 years. Until the latter's latest chapter though, Insidious: The Red Door, he wasn't so familiar with directing one. For the fifth instalment, the actor stepped behind the camera for the first time and took the series back to its beginning, bringing back Josh Lambert and his family from the original film and Insidious: Chapter 2 – a narrative choice that only came about when Wilson, who plays Josh, signed on to helm the sequel in 2019.
"I was sent a 15-page outline on the first day of shooting the last Conjuring movie coincidentally; these worlds are forever intertwined to me. But it was just a pitch to be in it," Wilson explains to GamesRadar+. "It was a different set-up. It was just Dalton going to college, there was no Rose [Byrne, who plays Josh's wife Renai], it had nothing to do with the family history.
"My agent asked Blumhouse to reach out to me because they knew I wanted to get into directing but I said no at first, because it was too daunting," he admits. "It was a process. They basically came back to me like: 'What do you want to do? If you want to do it, then we'll go back to the Lambert family. If you don't want to do this, then we'll figure out a new step.'
"So, I started thinking... and I knew I would want to unpack the second movie and make it sort of like, 'Boyhood in the horror world'," continues Wilson. "I wanted to go back and explore what happens to a family after that, to a relationship, to a marriage. Once they were on board with all of that then we found a writer in Scott Teems and we were off."
Picking up with the Lamberts nine years after we last saw them, Insidious: The Red Door opens on the funeral of Josh's mother Lorraine (Barbara Hershey) and quickly establishes that Josh and Renai have divorced. Since their separation, Josh's relationship with his kids, particularly his eldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins, who's played Wilson's onscreen offspring four times now), has become strained, which makes things all the more difficult when he starts suffering from confusing, terrifying visions. Not to mention the fact that Josh, along with Dalton, was hypnotized at the end of Insidious: Chapter 2 to forget their dimension-hopping dream-walking and all that happened to them in the previous year... Better the devil you know, right? Not the one you can't remember.
In an attempt to repair their bond, an isolated Josh drives aspiring artist Dalton to university, but the teen's own repressed memories quickly come back to haunt him there too, as his hard-to-please professor pushes him to look inward. Turns out, Wilson had a similar approach to his own work, though the results were the opposite of anxiety-inducing...
"You have to own it," he says of making his directorial debut. "That's why I chose certain themes in this, and I put Dalton in art school – I went to a theater school. I understand what it's like to be told, you know, 'get to the root of who you are' and all that stuff that you do in those sorts of environments. So, I was picking themes that I knew a lot about.
"I also wanted to explore the relationship of a father and son, even though I don't have that kind of relationship with my sons, I have two boys," he adds, noting that The Red Door also teases things about Josh's past and how he sometimes uses his dad's abandonment of him as an excuse for his own behavior. "So, I picked things that I wanted to dig into and that I knew I was passionate about, and so then you feel more confident."
Similar to how Insidious: Chapter 2 reframes certain scenes from its predecessor to give them new context, revealing Josh's own dealings with spirit realm The Further and its malevolent ghosts as a child, The Red Door kind of retcons the finale of the second movie. After Dalton inadvertently opens the titular gateway, he relives the moment a possessed Josh attacked him and the rest of the Lamberts back when he was a youngster, which forces him to not only face up to literal demons but also the lingering trauma of being threatened by someone supposed to protect him – and well, tinker a little with the timeline, too.
"I wanted to do that because I liked how effectively James [Wan] did that in the second movie," says Wilson. "Casting Ty and Andrew [Astor, who plays Dalton's younger brother Foster] in the same roles meant that we had all this footage of when they were kids. You've got us all from 10/12 years ago, right?
"I remember that there used to be more in there; there were different scenes – not shot but conceptually – and I wanted to flesh that back out," he notes, when we ask how he ensured the film didn't feel repetitive. "I knew if I kept it truthful that it would work. I didn't know how scary it would be or if people would like it, but I knew it would work.
"I went back through the second film and looked at some of the shots that James had in that laundry room sequence when I'm terrorizing the family, and I thought, 'that would be the most traumatic thing for a family to go through'. Then, when I watched the scene over and over and over, I saw all these shots that were behind bookshelves and stuff and I said, 'that could be Dalton's POV' so then my wheels started turning. I really kind of shaped the whole movie around that sequence."
Over the years, Wilson has been directed by Wan, who acts as a producer on Insidious: The Red Door, in Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Conjuring 2, and Aquaman, so it's easy to assume that he wasn't just influenced by Wan's camera movements. "It's less me giving him a list of questions and him answering them than it is me just spending time with him," he tells us.
"I've worked with some incredible directors across all different genres and so you glean the best information from everybody. There's pieces of lots of directors that I think I have thrown in there. With James specifically, though, it's his set-up that has always inspired me. His use of tension in some of his camera movements. I liked that. I liked that anyway, so I wasn't like, 'well, it worked for James I should try it.' It was admiration.
"Ultimately, he said one thing to me, which was just, 'make it yours,'" Wilson recalls. "It was probably the simplest thing but the most important because everything is filtered through a director. All day you're being asked, 'what coffee cup do you want to use? What do you want in the cup? What do you like?' You're just constantly being asked those questions.
"The more truthful you are to the story you want to tell the more, even though you compromise in a lot of situations, the movie is yours and nobody can take that away. In a weird way, you feel a little bulletproof because it's like, 'well, it's me up there' so it is what it is."
Insidious: The Red Door is in cinemas now. If horror isn't your bag, get up to speed with the most exciting upcoming movies heading our way throughout 2023 and beyond.