PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION Movie Review – The Sixth Time Isn’t the Charm
It took five credited writers, an astonishing number by any measure, to come up with the screenplay for Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, the purported concluding entry in the series that began with the release of writer-director Oren Peli’s low-budget, feature-length debut, Paranormal Activity, six years ago and the best they could do hardly qualifies as sub-mediocre, let alone “best.” Peli almost single-handedly revived the then moribund found-footage sub-genre, but time and four, now five, additional entries in the series, each one timed to maximize commercial viability, has led to a classic example of the irrefutable, iron-clad law of diminishing returns in action. With micro-budget über-producer Jason Blum (The Gift, Insidious, The Purge, and Sinister) involved once again, expecting anything but a tired, worn-out rehash or retread of earlier entries in the Paranormal Activity series would have been expecting too much.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension introduces yet another family to be (potentially) sacrificed to the demon-gods by their worshippers and believers, a coven of witches and/or a death cult of some kind. Apparently ultra-wealthy (probably something tech related, but that’s not important), Ryan (Chris J. Murray), his wife, Emily (Brit Shaw), and their six-year-old daughter share a McMansion somewhere in the bowels in Southern California. On an extended vacation or newly retired, Ryan and Emily are in Christmas/holiday mode with more than two weeks to go before Old Saint Nick makes an appearance. Ryan’s brother, Mike (Dan Gill), aching from a newly broken heart, drops in for an extended stay of his own, as does a mutual family friend, Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley), a yoga instructor (or something). It doesn’t really matter who they are, only what they are, fodder for the Paranormal Activity’s demons and their murderous acolytes.
Mike’s incredibly random discovery of an old box of videotapes and a 3D camera left behind by the previous owners leads to hours and hours of extra-exciting home viewing for Ryan and Mike. The tapes include everything Ryan and Mike need to bring them up to speed story wise (as always, the audience knows more about the characters’ individual and collective fates than the characters do), including video footage of two young girls, Katie and Kristi, integral to the series and eerie, discomfiting attempts to communicate with Toby (a demon, not a French bulldog), their very special, unseen friend. When Leila begins to exhibit the familiar signs of demonic haunting, Ryan and Emily are slow to move beyond natural explanations for her behavior, but that doesn’t stop them from placing video cameras in Leila’s room. The slightly higher budget means we finally see what Toby looks like (a black, ambulatory cloud) thanks to the grainy, unstable 3D camera introduced earlier. As usual, CG, not practical effects, is used to bring Toby to deeply non-scary non-life (easily frightened moviegoers might disagree, of course).
On a simple, primal level, showing a demon, via CG or otherwise, robs the Paranormal Activity series of one of its primary reasons for why it resonated so deeply with audiences: What we don’t see can hurt, maybe even kill us. Add to that the “no one’s safe” home invasion element typical of haunted houses (and people), the once fresh found footage device (Paranormal Activity’s produced abandoned the unedited, unmediated rationale for the videos long, long ago), and marginally acceptable production values, and the result was both an instant box-office hit and a template for the series. But once novelty and semi-originality gave way to formulaic clichés, the end was nigh. It just didn’t need to play out the way Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension ultimately played out. Disposable, underwritten characters, a greatest hits compilation to major and minor plot points, and cheap jump scares, not to mention an ending that fails to offer anything approaching the closure the series demands, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension looks and feels like what it is: One last, desperate attempt to separate unsuspecting moviegoers from their wallets (or rather their credit/debit cards).