It takes a lot to make me shake my fist at a movie screen in anger, but that is exactly what happen when I saw Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.
The year is 2008, and a young family has just moved into their dream home after landing a last-minute real estate deal. The house could not be more beautiful, but the owners cannot shake the feeling something is off. In the basement they discover a box of VHS tapes created by the previous owners, as well as a camera capable of capturing things we are unable to see with the naked eye, and soon the family finds themselves enveloped in a mystery that will turn their otherwise normal life upside down.
If you have seen any film in the Paranormal Activity series you know what happens at this point in the story. As the initial setup reaches completion, the film transitions to a series of individually numbered nights filled with creepy happenings. The difference between The Ghost Dimension and other franchise entries is that this time audiences are actually able to “see” the activity. This means, rather than watching a door mysteriously slam shut without anyone touching it, those seated in the theater bear witness to the first on-screen appearance of the demon known as Toby. His presence is initially presented as what can best be described as an ominous blob, appearing and disappearing from various scenes based on whether or not the married couple who shares the house are in the same room. When they’re absent, Toby interacts with the couple’s young daughter, who later swears to her parents that Toby is nothing more than a friend. You, as the audience, know better.
My moment of outrage came shortly after Toby’s initial appearance, as the decision to show audiences the so-called activity pretty much undermines everything that made this once great franchise so memorable. The success of Paranormal Activity has been driven by what we don’t see, as the absence of a visual terror has made every slamming door and strange bump in the night a bit creepier by filling every sequence with a sense of impending doom and unpredictable scares. With the reveal of Toby, audiences no longer have anything to fear. They can see the evil in the family’s home from the moment it appears, and given its penchant for bad behavior there is rarely anything spooky or unnerving about its actions. If anything, what would normally be frightening is now muted due to an abundance of poor CGI and unnecessary emphasis on seeing what is normally considered invisible. It might work for some, but for me revealing Toby is kind of like finding out what you’re getting for Christmas three weeks before the holiday actually arrives. It’s cool, for a brief moment, and then you’re bored.
The one area where The Ghost Dimension does succeed is in its casting, as the family whose life we see turned upside down plays their role extremely well. There is a believability to every relationship we see onscreen, and for the first time in several entries the forced humor of the exposition sequences works far more often than not. I don’t think we’ll see any one performance remembered in the years to come, but for a found-footage movie the turns given by stars Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw and Ivy George are entirely commendable.
Though several attempts are made at tying up loose ends related to the overarching story behind the activity, The Ghost Dimension’s third act is little more than a repeat of found footage finales already seen in titles like Grave Encounters or Apartment 143. The monsters may be bigger, and the mention of witches may be far more frequent, but when the credits begin to roll you’re left with just as many questions about the reason behind everything that has transpired over the last six films, if not more than you had when the film initially began. The Ghost Dimension, much like The Marked Ones, is just another example of an exhausted franchise trying to milk a few last box office dollars out of a story that has long run out of exciting ideas. It may be enough for some, but most will walk away wishing they had spent the previous 90 minutes watching almost anything else. If this is truly the end of Paranormal Activity, then all I have left to say is good riddance.