Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)
Directed by: Gregory Plotkin
Written by: Adam Robitel, Andrew Deutschman, Brantley Aufill, Gavin Heffernan, Jason Pagan
Starring: Brit Shaw, Chris J. Murray, Dan Gill, Ivy George
IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 88 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
1988, Katie and Kristi are watching Dennis have his spine crushed by a mysterious force. Grandma Lois takes the girls upstairs where, along with the camera, they go into a room where a man talks to them about Toby and how they are critically important to his plan. Twenty-five years later, in 2013, Ryan Fleege, his wife Emily, and their six year old daughter Leila are about to celebrate Christmas. Emily’s sister Skyle and Ryan’s brother Mike also come to stay. Leila starts talking to an imaginary friend named Toby, while later that day Mike finds a video camera which can pick up supernatural activity and a box of old video tapes from 1988 to 1992 which show the young Kristi and Katie in 1988 being introduced to Toby and being taught to make the most of their psychic abilities. Ryan and Mike try to figure out what’s really happening on those tapes and begin recording increasingly prominent ghost-like apparitions….
This supposedly final [yeah right] instalment of the Paranormal Activity series was apparently originally going to have a 2013 release, but was postponed to October 24, 2014, almost exactly a year later. Then it was pushed to March 13th, 2015, and then finally postponed till last Friday. It’s been met with a somewhat lukewarm response, though I think that some of that could be the fault of producer Jason Blum, who has said this, and I quote:
“It’s coming to an end. This is it, the finale. We’re saying it before the movie opens. We’re not going to grind this horror franchise into the ground. This will keep Paranormal Activity as part of this culture and this particular time in a really fantastic way. All the questions that everyone has asked from the past Paranormal Activity films: What does Toby look like? What’s the back story to the families? These questions have been teased out. Now they will be answered.”
Well, Paranormal Activity 6: The Ghost Dimension may show us what Toby looks like, and may tie up some loose ends. However, Blum, as well as some of the writers who have actually been more obvious about it, seemed to imply that this film will give us all the answers, but in no way does the film actually do this. There’s a lot that still doesn’t make sense; in fact, it’s so lazy that it doesn’t even refer to the pretty good twist at the end of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I left the cinema feeling distinctly unsatisfied because of all this, even though the film itself was okay in many other respects.
Of course it’s been a long time since the glory days of the first film in the series which, despite its silly, Steven Spielberg-suggested coda, I will never forget as the film which made me hesitate for some time before opening the front door of my house when I got home from seeing it. I didn’t even want to go upstairs! Its understanding that the simplest things can scare, and that the mind can do much of the work, was carried over to the first two sequels, though the law of diminishing returns begun to apply a little. The fourth part though was a boring disappointment and didn’t even seem to be trying. At least the much-maligned spinoff The Marked Ones tried to a more explicit, action-packed approach and for me pumped a bit of life into the franchise. This one?….well, it kind of returns to the feel of the first four, and kind of doesn’t, at the same time, the latter being largely because we usually see the ghost or demon this time. This means that, for about two thirds of the running time, most of the supposed scares involve: “He’s behind you” moments, where characters are oblivious to a blob-like apparition, but, because a camera that can record paranormal activity is being used, the audience can see it, and the characters can when they play the recordings back. All this is distinctly un-frightening and actually gets rather tedious.
Set just after Paranormal Activity 2, we get what may have been a deleted scene from Paranormal Activity 3, I’m not sure, then the usual character introductions and scene-setting which are got out of the way very quickly. The script manages a few mild chuckles – o look, one of the Christmas decorations is of two male reindeer humping! – and has your usual one person who is a bit annoying, this time an admittedly very pretty blonde who talks a lot of stuff about feng shui and auras in a way that makes you think this will feed into the story later though it doesn’t really. The script also has to give us a reason why the family has a video player lying around – of course, it’s so ~Ryan can watch his dad’s pornos! – while the handheld camera stuff is quite well done though gives us odd things like a shot from inside the TV while the screen is being wiped. Are we supposed to infer that the family have put a camera inside the TV, a camera that never seems to be used again? Anyway, we soon into the mysterious tapes being found, and it is here that the 3D [well, I thought I’d give it a go, being as the 2D version was on at less convenient times] begins to be a bit stronger – honestly, you can barely tell the difference in many of the earlier scenes.
We soon get an unnerving bit when Kristi and Katie, who are of course on the tapes and supposedly exist in 1988, let Ryan and Mike know that that they are aware of their presence, while we’ve already had a ghost being half-seen on a tape, but for a considerable amount of time the latter is all we get – ghost [or, again, should I say, demon], appears in a room but characters don’t see it, then they do see it when they play the footage back. Then repeat. And repeat again. It would have been far better if they’d begun with the more subtle approach and then shown Toby more gradually. Alongside all this, the characters are often mind boggingly stupid and even mean, knowing that their daughter is being haunted but continuing to have her sleep alone. The film is all a bit tedious for some time, but suddenly it seems to wake up around two thirds of the way through and gives us some genuine scares – watch out for a face in the curtains and the moment when the screen goes blank for a real seconds [it’s one of the best jump scares of the year] – while also becoming really quite exciting. The 3D is used quite well what with things looming out at the audience, and things conclude in that appropriately dark fashion, but….
We’re left with a whole lot of plot holes, questions and examples of just bad storytelling like the idea of Kristi and Katie being able to see into the future which ends up having no bearing on the plot. I’m not going to get too spoilerific here, but this movie actually makes much of what we learnt in earlier films irrelevant and butchers the story as told in them. The way things eventually pan out, the witches, the possessed boys, the time travel, the deaths…all didn’t need to happen. And, as said earlier, we are still left with so many questions that I can only conclude that Blum and co. are lying and do actually intend to make more of these films, though I reckon they’ll begin a new series and try and tie things left hanging into it. All this made me dislike Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension probably more than I should have done, because some things in it are done quite well, such as the ‘Found Footage-style filming – there was probably more shakycam in, for example, Suffragette – though the ghost dimension itself is a big disappointment and a similarly Poltergeist-like plot element of Leila being kidnapped is almost thrown away. The screenplay, credited to four people [five if you count the credit for “story”], just seems to have been thrown together by folk who had only watched the previous films in the series once and quite a while ago.
Gregory Plotkin’s direction is solid for this kind of thing and the cast are okay. Michael Krawic has some good moments as Father Todd, the priest called in by the Fleege’s to help them and opting to carry out an “extermination” rather than an “exorcism”. Overall Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension isn’t really too bad an effort, and has its moments of effectiveness and even flair, but the cavalier attitude shown by the writers and the producers to the developing story which they created, and also to the fans of these films, can’t help but leave one annoyed. O well, more will come, and we will all get excited at having thing become more clear, and we will probably be let down, again.