After six movies and its influence noticeable in every half-witted found footage movie, it’s fair to wonder just how much further the Paranormal Activity franchise can go. Well, according to series creator Oren Peli and producer Jason Blum, not much farther, as they’ve declared the latest installment, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, the final entry in the horror series that originated in 2007. There is one final trick up the sleeve of Paranormal Activity – 3D. Yes, the final chapter of this series adds, somewhat, the third dimension so you can see the whirlwind of gimmickry before your very eyes. That being said, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension will likely please fans of the series while leaving its detractors reaffirmed. The film falls into a number of the traps inherent in the found footage genre yet still is mostly an entertaining movie due to its sense of humor and well-timed creepy jolts with stuff flying at your face.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this movie is about, and you’d be shocked to learn that it’s about a family that’s terrorized in their home by unexplained phenomena. Ryan (Chris J. Murray) lives in a quiet home in Santa Rosa, California with his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) and their young daughter Leila (Ivy George). Staying at their home during the Christmas season are Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) and Emily’s friend Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley). Once Ryan discovers an old video camera and VHS tapes, strange events start happening. Of course, Ryan and everyone else is filming the events otherwise there’d be no movie. Through his research, Ryan learns that his home used to the spot where these mysterious and increasingly creepy home videos took place. But the entity in the house has taken a liking to Leila and the young girl starts acting odder and odder, talking to her invisible friend Toby before bizarre things begin to happen.
Making his directorial debut, Gregory Plotkin strictly adheres to the found footage format that has come to define the Paranormal Activity series, though the many credited writers (screenplay by Jason Pagan, Andrew Deutschman, Adam Robitel, and Gavin Heffernan based on a story by Pagan, Deutschman, and Brantley Aufill) thankfully avoid inserting lines to explain why people are filming at any given time instead of running for their lives. Once again, cameras remain static as the house is surveilled by a concerned parent – there’s nothing really interesting or inherently cinematic in this approach – or the cameras flail wildly as the ghosts wreak havoc upon the poor residents of the accursed house. Amazingly, however, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension makes great use of its 3D gimmickry as specters and household objects suddenly fly towards the screen as the music screeches. It’s not great horror, but it’s an entertaining little jolt. Even to praise the 3D of The Ghost Dimension is also to be forced to admit that you can remove your 3D glasses for approximately 70% of the film’s brief running time.
It’s hard to praise actors in a found footage film because they’re often out of frame while reciting wretched dialogue explaining what would be seeing in a normal movie. None of the actors in The Ghost Dimension embarrass themselves, but the genre confines still dictate that nobody can really stand out too much – Dan Gill could’ve been that standout yet much of his dynamic comedy relief is delivered as a disembodied voice offscreen. I didn’t want to reach across the screen and personally kill any of these characters, so in that one regard it’s definitely a standout from its found footage peers. But their variations on saying “What the fuck?” get tiresome after awhile.
If the marketing for the film were to be believed (and it seldom should), The Ghost Dimension would reveal some new aspects to the Paranormal Activity mythology and take audiences to a place they’ve never been before. This is, at best, a half-truth and the greatest flaw of the film. The story teased of a Satanic cult is much more interesting than another middle class suburban family grappling with the unknown. Throughout the film I wanted more and more information about the nefarious plans and past deeds of these strange past tormentors yet was consistently confronted with conformity. The Ghost Dimension is a film that would’ve played best outside the found footage genre while still employing it. Alas, that’s not this movie.
As someone with no particular affinity for found footage or 3D movies, let alone them combined, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension left me mildly entertained, a Herculean feat for a found footage movie. If you’re not a fan of the Paranormal Activity movies, there’s nothing in The Ghost Dimension for you. For those who are fans, The Ghost Dimension is a more than adequate closing out for one of horror’s most recent iconic franchises.