Paranormal Activity has become a huge moneymaker over the years, requiring a modest budget and commanding endless profits despite quality – as if with most horror franchises – slipping fast. The film’s formula of night-vision cam jump scares quickly defined the genre in the 21st century right alongside the other big franchise of the times, Saw. While Saw saw an equal drop in quality, the franchise managed to deliver a relatively strong finish and back out of the game while bringing some dignity to the overarching mythology of Jigsaw and his sadistic, bitter gore-porn games; sadly Paranormal Activity backs out with mixed results.
Surprisingly, The Ghost Dimension is the first Paranormal Activity to make use of 3D technology, slapping it mainly onto the mythology’s big bad, Toby, as particles of the demonic force are captured by some sort of spirit camera. Big wide angle shots through surveillance cameras seem like the perfect platform for 3D but sadly none of these formulaic jump scares are augmented by the tech, with loud sound effects proving to once again be MVP when it comes to making viewers shake in their seats.
The first three films in the series seem to have depleted the creativity this type of genre allows, now instead of being a test of patience with a few payoffs here and there, it’s just a test of patience, with the only real purpose of sitting through this being to see the mythology of Paranormal Activity come together; the writers do a pretty decent job at connecting dots and bringing it all back to Toby and a very patient cult as they attempt a very ambitious, terrifying prophecy: giving Toby a human body.
Rather than have Katie or Kristi return, the film focuses on the Fleege family, who move into a big, beautiful home built on the same grounds as the house from Paranormal Activity 3. Ryan (Chris J Murray) is the husband, Emily (Brit Shaw) is the wife, and Leila (Ivy George) is their necessarily creepy daughter who predictably begins a ‘friendship’ with Toby as soon as her parents move in. The family is kept company, in the lead-up to Christmas, by wise-cracking Dan Gill as Ryan’s brother Mike who, to be fair, is actually pretty funny. There’s also Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley), Emily’s sister who ultimately adds nothing to the film.
While settling into their new home, Ryan and Mike find a box with an old 1980s custom-made video camera and a stack of VHS tapes. The old tapes are of a cult priming Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown) as part of the prophecy, giving Ryan enough material to gradually piece together what’s happening through the film far better than the cliche priest whose every line is stale exposition. The use of VHS tapes to revisit and shed some new light on the whole mythology adds greatly to the film and is one of it’s few strong narrative techniques. Most memorably, there’s a scene where a young Katie is channeling Toby and describing the room in which Mike and Ryan are standing while they watch the tape – it’s creepy, albeit a little silly, and far more effective than any bump-in-the-night jump scare.
The characters begin likable enough – as with all of the previous films – but veer towards such frustrating idiocy that it’s hard to invest much, if anything at all, in them as the writers race to wrap this whole thing up. At one point, a priest literally tells Ryan and Emily that their fear is helping Toby grow into what he/she/it wants to become; so what do they do? They give Toby even more fear to feed on
Having Toby slowly begin to “grow” along with the progression of the prophecy, which requires a drop of Leila’s blood, proves to be a good direction for the film. Gradually, we begin to see the ghostly apparition take form which has it’s moments of terror with the CG effects right before they mess the whole thing by making him a very non-scary blob of black oil at one point.
Aside from a mention indicating that she was the faux real estate agent who sold Ryan and Emily this new home, Katie Featherstone is not in The Ghost Dimension and it ruins any type of consistency that has been built up over the past installments. Katie has been present in all Paranormal Activity films and is the antagonist the series has been grounded by since day one; not having her here – save child form via found footage – weakens the film significantly and blocks all the admirable work the writers do to fit the past with the present and paint a full picture of the prophecy.
Although the mythology wraps up nicely once Ryan and Emily piece together the plan to bring Toby into a tangible state, things fall apart drastically towards the end and a neat idea is rushed and poorly executed.
It’s something you should definitely watch if you’ve invested time and energy into the whole story and want to see it unfold; it’s nothing beyond that (but at least it’s much better than the fourth film)
Review Score: TWO STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 88 minutes
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is in cinemas now