The “Paranormal Activity” franchise has been alive for six long years, with an annual premiere of a new film since 2007. “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” the sixth installment of the series, promises also to be the final. A neat ending is not in this series’ future, however, as Gregory Plotkin’s debut film contradicts the series’ original, refreshing, and haunting indie movie experience, which was based on quality storytelling, a clever found footage format, and the use of the unseen. “Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension” instead attempts to honor its predecessors and liven up the series’ waning popularity by going bigger, not better, through the excessive use of CGI special effects, extensively shallow characters, and a formulaic plot.
This film picks up where “Paranormal Activity 3” left off, reaching past the last two installments, with Kristi (Chloe Csengery) and Katie (Jessica Tyler Brown) going upstairs to talk with “Tobi” (Mark Steger), the demon familiar from prior “PA” installments, about his grand plan. The film then jumps 25 years forward to December 2013 to find the Fleeges family, complete with father Ryan (Chris J. Murray), mother Emily (Brit Shaw), and daughter Leila (Ivy George), moving into a new house and preparing for Christmas. Soon joined by two guests, Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) and Emily’s best friend Skylar (Olivia Taylor Dudley), they discover boxes of tapes dated 1988-1992 and a camera in the garage. Armed only with these dated pieces of technology, the family faces the increasingly extreme supernatural happenings in their new home.
The script, written by Jason Pagan, Andrew Stark, Adam Robitel, and Gavin Heffernan, is poor and careless for the most part. Shallow characters are prevalent: a classic paranoid discoverer of the paranormal, a spiritual cynic, and an archetypal deadbeat brother. Leila is the only character with any sort of sophistication, and even that only goes so far, as seen in her unexplained transition from hesitant daughter interacting with a demon to uncompromising demon’s advocate seemingly overnight. This film also heavily relies on the exact same build-up as that of its PA predecessors: family in a new house, scary happenings that slowly escalate, and the “Tobi” name drop. Completing this thoughtless formula is a lack of realistic considerations. None of the adults seem to work, and Leila never goes to school. The ending, unsurprisingly, was an incredibly uninspiring attempt to tie the previous films together. Playing most heavily on “Paranormal Activity 3” (probably because of its notable success relative to other films in the franchise), the final scenes in this film are slapdash at best, throwing deaths at characters like free t-shirts and failing to truly add to the meaning of the other films. The closing shot could easily be mistaken for a B-movie knockoff of “REC.”
With this level of writing, the quality of the acting is certainly admirable. The characters are convincing, even with the little potential they are afforded to experience more than one emotion at a time. There are not any ear-piercing screams or conspiratorially terrified looks, and even badly written lines like the obligatory “I must be going crazy” are said with bracing delivery. Particularly lively exchanges that occur between the two brothers, who provide the only in-depth relationship in the film. Murray and Gill spar across the screen even as they meditate over the “horrifying” older tapes in some moments of genuine humor.
The cinematography is paradoxically well-executed but poorly thought out. Diverging from the series’ previous ideas of the value of the unseen, this film focuses on the portrayal of “Tobi” as a floating black material the characters holding the camera walk through. This results in an excessive amount screen time devoted to the demon, and, while the 3D filming helps, it certainly does not justify the technique. While creepy at first, by the end of the film the 3D becomes a distraction from the terrifying story. “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” uses the first person perspective as a tool to make the audience experience events alongside the characters. However, the use of 3D does not contribute to this end, and the found footage technique is tired and leaned upon too heavily by a director desperately trying to inject novelty into what is a fundamentally worn-out story. The film relies on silent, static shots of hallways and empty rooms, making it an exercise in audience anticipation. The framing is not scary but aggressive, with an excess of jump scares and loud noises.
“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” is another in a long line of cliché horror films. It brings some interesting concepts to the table but subsequently drags them down with a reliance on thin tropes and a lack of interesting wrap-ups. There are forced attempts to connect this new family’s experience with that of characters the previous films, but it is a feeble, unrewarding connection. This film shows that all the thrills originally keeping this series fresh are gone and only answers some of the questions that have been doggedly asked since the beginning. This series ends not with a bang, but with a whimper.
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