Each Insidious movie takes us a little bit further into the ghastly universe dreamed up by James Wan and Leigh Whannell. But this latest instalment, the Patrick Wilson-directed Insidious: The Red Door, has a unique challenge in that it catches up with the characters from the first film, the Lambert family, almost a decade after their son, Dalton (Ty Simpkins), astral projected into a coma. How has Dalton’s time in the spirit world informed how he interacts with the real world? And, more importantly, what does his closet look like now that he’s grown-up and ready to share his artistic flair with the world?
Costume designer Dajia Milan was one of the many artists tasked with bringing the Lambert family into 2023, working alongside Wilson and Simpkins to pull their characters into the present while still honouring their shared past. Speaking with Dread Central recently, Milan shared the secrets behind her styling for this successful sequel, including the 90s icon who inspired Dalton’s final boy fashion, the Halloween sequel she’d kill to do costumes for, and how to stand out when you’re in the darkest corners of The Further.
Read the full interview below. Insidious: The Red Door is in select theatres now.
Dread Central: Do you like horror movies? What is your feeling about horror in general?
Dajia Milan: Oh, I love horror. I’ve been a horror fan since I was a child. I think my first introduction were the usuals of Michael Myers and Candyman and Chucky and Scream. So getting the chance to actually design costumes for one is full circle, dream come true type of thing.
DC: Were you an Insidious fan?
DM: Oh, yes. When I saw the name on the grids that comes to me from my agent, I was like, “You have to give me a meeting. I’ve been a fan so I have to get this movie.”
DC: It’s doing so well at the box office, that must be really exciting to see.
DM: It is. It’s really exciting to have my first big project, my first horror to be the number one film right now in the country.
DC: Before I go further into The Further, you also worked on the new Dead Ringers. How did working on that project compare to this one? Obviously, it’s a series versus a film, but a very juicy project to work on.
DM: Yes. Dead Ringers was quite a project. I will say it was my most challenging project.
I was there as the assistant designer and then jumped to the associate designer. I was the first ACD, so I was hands-on with every single thing seen on camera and it was not the easiest job just doing the whole twin situation and just coming up with all of these looks for such a long series.
We shot more than what was shown on TV, but it was quite difficult to do because the script was so complex compared to what Insidious is. I mean, we made it happen — it’s always a, “We’ll figure it out,” situation. But I think for a lot of us on Dead Ringers … it was new to do this whole twin situation along with the complexities of all the nasty birthing scenes and things like that. I couldn’t even be on set one day because it was just so nasty with so much blood work we had to do!
We didn’t do any blood [on Insidious], but it got me into the sense of the gory things that I would have to deal in Insidious. Dealing with Sick Kid and that was just all nasty, gooey stuff. I don’t have the stomach for things like that. I can see someone get chopped up into pieces and just sit there, “Oh my god. This is so cool.” But the smallest little things will gross me out.
DC: But going into Insidious, one of the things that’s a hallmark of that series is The Further and the environment — how dark it is but also how colorful it is, that red light and the smoky atmosphere. How did that play into the choices that you made in terms of what Josh and Dalton would wear when they go into The Further?
Patrick Wilson in Screen Gems INSIDIOUS: THE RED DOOR
DM: I think going into it because I’ve already been a fan, I knew that watching the first two, we couldn’t really see them in The Further. And so for me to do this, I had to really think about that process of, we want the audience to be scared and we also want them to see what’s going on and to see the difference of who they are in this time span.
I just really had to work very closely with the production designer, the color palettes and the cinematographer, to see what that lighting is going to be like. So that way, we have some colors and textures that we’ll see, but it won’t be like, “Oh my god. I can see it clearly.”
You’ll see Dalton is wearing that tie-dye print. It’s cool because the smoke is going off of it so you see this print going on as he’s being thrown around into The Further. You can actually see the action that’s happening and it’s not this pure darkness of using these really, really dark colors. Although the shirt was black, I believe it was a charcoal or a brownish color in there, so you can still see it but it’s not so in your face.
DC: And Patrick [Wilson] stands out against the red door.
DM: I know! It was so cool to see that dynamic of when I saw it two weeks ago at the screening. It was like, “Oh my god. The colors look so nicely put together,” with this bright red and you have this textured gray bluish hoodie against the door so we can actually see what’s going on with Patrick and what he’s doing in the door shaking his body. Because you don’t want to lose that — you want to see what’s actually happening to make sense of the story.
I think it’s really hard in horror to do that, to make it flow as smoothly as possible so you can see the action, the actors, but not drown them out where they just look just like the design of the set. I think we accomplished what we needed to do to make sure the audience can actually see the story unfold.
DC: When we see Dalton in the previous films he’s a kid and then here we pick up with him as an adult. How did you go about developing his adult persona when there’s a gap in his timeline so you can’t see that growth in between?
Ty Simpkins in Screen Gems Insidious: The Red Door
DM: I was able to just build his character from just the bits and pieces that we already know about him. We know that he’s an artist and that’s what he’s doing in college. That was written into the script so that gave me an easy way into how to develop this character as a young adult. And just from reading the script, I’m just like, “I already knew what I wanted to do with him.”
He’s an artist. He has this dark sense about himself because he’s lost a bit of his life, he’s detached from his father, they’re essentially in a broken home, and he’s had to grow up without that father presence. And so, he’s really aloof in that sense.
And so, I wanted to expand on that storytelling with his wardrobe and just make him dark and this skater kid at the same time and just give him these little tidbits to really create this character that people can relate to when they see it.
There’s some skater, there’s an artist, there’s this young kid who has a sense of personal style. At that house party we see him in this cutoff, these R13 cutoff jeans. They’re like shorts and jeans at the same time, which are really cool but we left them as the jean part. But they have this cut all around and it’s not just rips as most people wear. I really liked that gave him a little character.
And we also see him in, at the very end, these skater Dickies. We ripped them at the bottoms and frayed it at the bottom to give it more character and texture. So when we see him getting thrown, you see the texture there.
I also gave him this idea from the skaters that I know. They use a lot of these ropes as belts because it gives them access to move, which is really cool that they use that rope as a gag later on in the movie. That was never scripted, they just added that in based off of the character that I built for him, which I thought was really cool.
After I created the board for [Dalton], me and Ty [Simpkins] talked about it and he had some ideas and I took what he wanted. He liked the idea of Dalton being based around Kurt Cobain, so I just figured that out with the plaid shirt, which was also a little nod to Josh, who always wore plaid in the first two. I wanted to tie Dalton and Josh in together because although they feel very detached from each other, they’re still very influenced by each other in certain areas that they don’t even think about.
DC: It’s interesting you mention the comparison between Josh and Dalton because, obviously, a big part of this movie is their shared ability, their shared history, their shared lack of knowledge about their history. But there’s another character who we haven’t seen before: Ben Burton, the father of Josh. Can you talk about developing that character’s style?
Patrick Wilson in Screen Gems Insidious: The Red Door
DM: For Ben Burton, we, me and Patrick, worked it out. He wanted to base it off of some close personal people in his life — I think, mostly, his father. So we just pulled from there and I just played around with ’70s fashion for him and it really was just as simple as that because we only see him for a very small part.
We knew that we wanted him to be in the ’70s and we wanted him to be this kind of cool dad type figure. He smoked weed and did all these crazy cool things from back in the days and that was really just it for him.
DC: The other spirits or demons, the ones that come out from underneath the bed in the dorm room, all felt out of different time periods. Is that correct?
DM: Yes! So that was a big thing because we are 10 years later and Patrick and I joked that we always see Victorian ghosts all the time in these films. Is there a space where we can do something new?
Even when I interviewed for the job, I already had these crazy ideas for The Further because I was such a fan and I’m like, “Oh man, I would really love to see something else that could scare us.” And I came up with the concept of maybe we have ghosts and ghouls that are from all different time periods, walks of life, and he really took to that idea.
We had the MRI scene scare at the hospital. We had the Sick Kid at the dorm room. We had the ghouls under the bed and the lady who comes out who’s in the poster and is this great contortionist. We based her character off of vaudeville type of thing and she had this corset top and these ripped up tights and she had one shoe on — the other shoe was off and she’s doing all these crazy things under. And the mud face guy was just this forest mud cake thing that we played with because I had this weird, crazy image of these tree people so we based it off of that.
There so many more ghouls that, unfortunately, didn’t make the cut that I got to really, really explore and play with. I had ghouls that were dead cowgirls.
DM: [Patrick] really allowed me to just play with what I wanted to do in The Further. It was so cool and great for me to be able to do that for my first horror. I had fun. I played dress up with new undead people!
DC: Speaking of new characters, we have to talk about Chris, who is a fashion icon.What was the impetus for her style and what you wanted to achieve with her? She feels, to me, like the inverse of Dalton.
DM: Yes! Because she plays a melodica, she’s a mathematician, but she wanted to be an artist, and then she lives with her grandparent, we came up with so many backstories. We made the backstories after me just making the board.
Just from reading the script alone, I’m like, “They have to be two people who you would never put together as really, really close friends.” He is this aloof, dark, kept quiet kid and she is this burst of personality and color. She’s just so electric and I really just wanted to be able to show that through the costuming.
I was downtown in New York City and I was in St. Mark’s and thrifting and stuff. I’m like, “Oh man, we haven’t seen these original character people in so long.” I feel like in the masses now, everyone dresses the same. We all are following trends which we are lacking individuality. It’s like no one wants to be themselves anymore and I love that nostalgia feeling of like, “Oh my god. They’re putting whatever the hell they want to on because they’re so secure within themselves. They don’t care what the world thinks.” And so, for me, that’s what I wanted for Chris. This tomboy-ish girly type of thing.
Her name is Chris, you would think it’s a boy. So I wanted to play on that idea of that, but bringing in so many colors and patterns and textures for her. Her earrings all the time would be mix matching. She had this blazer that was cut on the sides that was separated with the shorts.
Her costume when she wore to the frat party, which is one of my favorites, was actually a Dries Van Noten top with Paco Rabanne shorts, paired with some Doc Martens. When she kicks Nick the Dick, she’s wearing socks that say,”Fuck off.”I wish we would’ve gotten a closeup.
Sinclair Daniel in Screen Gems Insidious: The Red Door
She was actually one of my hardest characters to dress because we have so many fitting photos of so many different looks and it comes down to five or six changes, which was so hard to choose from. Developing her was so easy. It was narrowing down that was hard.
[Sinclair Daniel, who plays Chris] was like, “Which ones are we going to use? Because I like this one, this one, this one,” and I’m like, “I don’t know. I gotta figure it out. You’ll look good.” She had so many fantastic looks that I’ll probably be able to share now. It was like playing dress up with her every time.
DC: I loved… I think it was a jumpsuit… she was wearing in the finale.
DM: Oh, yes. The last sequence she wears a jumpsuit from NorBlack NorWhite that was hand painted and it was just the perfect piece to finish it out because we have all these stunts going on. She’s running around, she gets thrown so we needed something comfortable that covered her full body in case of we need to pad her up for the stunt scene.
It was super easy to put on and everyone loved it. It looks really great against her and Dalton in The Further. He’s wearing the tie-dye, she’s wearing this spots of colors around her, and it just looks really nice with the lighting. Whether it is the full bright lights or it was in The Further, you still see the prints, you still see these people.
DC: Dalton’s last outfit is colorful and I was like, “Did Chris take him shopping?”
DM: We wanted to end him in a brighter sense of where he’s at now because that last scene takes place much later when Josh comes to his school. So at that point we’re like, “Let’s make him more influenced by feeling lighter in life.” And he’s really close with Chris. We don’t know what their relationship is, but we know that they’re close now.
DC: He looked good. You need to experiment more, Dalton. I love you in the dark colors, but you know what? You can pull off other stuff too!
DM: Right? We’ve seen him so dark and now that he feels so free of himself, of this realm, we wanted to show that, “All right. He feels free. He wants to be something else. He wants to step away from what he used to be.”
DC: If somebody were to cosplay as Dalton and Chris, what are the touchstones that they absolutely need to have?
DM: For Chris, I would say you got to do either the jumpsuit or you have to do the frat party colorful shorts. You just have to mix the prints. That was her thing, mixing prints, mixing your jewelry up. That is full Chris.
Dalton, you got to do… I think for him has to be that plaid shirt type that’s ripped up because it’s the Kurt Cobain type of thing. That’s a signature that I think would stick if you want to do him. Or those pants that he wears and that last tie-dye look.
DC: And the string belt too, maybe?
DM: And the string belt.
DC: Is there another horror series, or a horror filmmaker, that you would love to collaborate with?
DM: I would love to do something with Jordan Peele.
I would love them to redo Candyman into a series, but it would have to be the original. Tony Todd is still around, so they could definitely bring him back. He was the scariest thing ever.
I mean, we know that they’re done with Halloween so I will give that up. But did pitch to them. Because Blumhouse did Halloween I’m like, “What if we could get Michael and a Busta Rhyme spin-off because we didn’t get that?”
DM: Busta is still around. We could totally keep doing that story.
DC: I love that. Because Halloween: Resurrection? Underrated.
DM: Literally loved that one of all of them.
DC: And I think that we don’t talk about the fact that Busta is a final boy. He went up against Michael!
DM: He did and nothing happened. Like, Michael didn’t want revenge?
DC: Obviously we’re talking about your dream things right now, but what’s really coming up next for you?
DM: Well, there’s always things in a pipeline — probably a series — but we don’t know until we get through this WGA strike.
DC: And maybe if Insidious continues, there’s room for you to come back?
DM: There’s always room for me to come back.