'Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension'
Five sequels later, it’s still hard to believe that ‘Paranormal Activity’ became the second most successful horror franchise of the decade. Over the last eight years, it’s become an endlessly extended series repeating the same jump scare tricks and somehow making mucho money every time. Now we’ve been given ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’, a final chapter that promises to finally show the previously invisible hauntings and answer all lingering questions.
Once again, we meet a family that inexplicably likes to film everything they do. Daddy Ryan (Chris J. Murray) is the constant cameraman. Mommy Emily (Brit Shaw) always asks the right question to fill in plot exposition. Uncle Mike (Dan Gill) offers comedic relief. Family friend Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley) provides the spiritual mumbo-jumbo, and little cherub Leila (Ivy George) is the kiddie who causes all the problems.
This time, the spookiness kicks off when poppa bear finds a weird old camera in his new house that seems to see things that aren’t there. Obviously, we can assume these are ghostly things. Soon, leaving the camera on all night reveals that a dark presence is starting to chitter-chatter with the li’l girl. The camera conveniently comes along with VHS tapes of the girls from ‘Paranormal Activity 3’ being trained in some sort of psychic Satanic shenanigans to fill in the gaps, and the fancy-pants ghost camera lets the audience see the spookiness that’s finally being semi-explained. Other than that, you know the drill: Long pregnant pauses punctuated by jump scares. Lather, rinse, repeat.
All things considered, this is actually one of the more watchable ‘Paranormal Activity’ sequels. The cast is uniformly pretty strong, which goes a long way in helping sell the same old tricks for the sixth time (seventh if you include the unofficial Japanese sequel). For the first forty minutes or so, the much-marketed haunting visual effects work rather well. In particular, director Gregory Plotkin (who edited all previous ‘Paranormal Activity’ sequels, so he’s at least got the timing down) goes for an old-timey William Castle effect of making the hauntings the only 3D element in the film. Gimmicky? Absolutely, but this is a part six in a horror franchise, so that’s the route you’ve got to go down at this point. The jumps and atmosphere pile on top of each other effectively for at least the first hour. For a while, it seems like the franchise might actually go out with one of its finest entries.
Unfortunately, this isn’t just a gimmicky “see the ghosts” sequel. No, the filmmakers also intended to wrap up this plotline once and for all, hiring no less than five credited writers to figure that out. Exposition is piled on thick (often in distractingly implemented ADR) and the explanations are somehow both too simple and too confusing. If you’ve been paying attention to the movies thus far, it’s likely that you already figured out the basics yourself, given that there’s a coven and all. Still, it’s spelled out with nauseating specificity to ensure no one is confused. Even so, it somehow still leaves out too much information, since the explanations really only cover the last three sequels.
Regardless, the whole inexplicable mystery and home haunts that made the series so successful disappear once all the plot is laid bare, and ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ dies along with it. To make matters worse, the grand finale shoves so much silly ghost CGI into viewer’s eyeholes in 3D that the whole thing becomes laughable. At a certain point, it feels more like a theme park 3D movie than an actual theatrical release.
Still, there have been far worse ‘Paranormal Activity’ movies (specifically the second and fourth forgettable entries). The folks at Paramount and Blumhouse at least know when to stop this series before dipping too far into self-parody. This one was likely as far as everyone involved could push the simple story, and that’s probably why everyone went out of their way to over-explain as many loose ends as possible.
‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ is not a great movie, but it is a surprisingly watchable one. If you’ve followed the franchise this far, you might as well finish it. Worst case scenario, at least you’ll come out the other side knowing that you’ll never have to see one of these movies again.