‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension’ Ends This Series with a Whimper Instead of a Bang

Paranormal Activity The Ghost Dimension poster

With “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” we have finally reached the end of this long running horror franchise. At least, this is what Paramount Pictures is saying. They said the same thing after “Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter” and looked what happened there. When asked to explain the end of his movie “Halloween,” John Carpenter said it shows how evil never dies. This is a perfect explanation, and it helps explain why Michael Meyers keeps coming back to Haddonfield, why Freddy Krueger continues to haunt the dreams of teenagers, why Jason Voorhees continues to hack up camp counselors, and why Pinhead continues to lure the infinitely curious to that crazy box of his. Could the ever-malevolent demon known as Toby finally be stopped once and for all?

Well, let’s hope so because “The Ghost Dimension” confirms the “Paranormal Activity” franchise has finally run out of gas to where I wished the filmmakers ended it after “The Marked Ones.” This sequel returns the series to another tale of a white suburban family terrorized by Toby, and the family keeps looking into the things which go bump in the night even as the story get progressively worse. On the upside, this sequel does attempt to answer all the questions we have about this series and doesn’t just tease us endlessly the way “Paranormal Activity 4” did, but nothing is as scary as it once was.

This movie opens with a quick throwback to the literally back-breaking finale of “Paranormal Activity 3” where young Katie and Kristi are gathered up by their grandma Lois and taken to a room where a man tells them they are a critical part of Toby’s plan. We then move forward to 2013 where we meet the Fleeges, a family comprised of Ryan (Chris J. Murray), his wife Emily (Brit Shaw), and their young daughter Leila (Ivy George). They are later joined by Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) who just broke up with his girlfriend, and also Skylar (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who is a nanny or a yoga instructor or something along those lines.

Each “Paranormal Activity” movie has a twist on the technology used to exploit the presence of the demonic Toby, and this one is no exception. Ryan and Mike end up coming across this giant video camera (and yes, they used to be that big) which actually allows them to see the spiritual forces hovering around the home which take the form of an oil slick that moves around ominously. Pretty soon, young Leila is talking to Toby because impressionable kids are easily for demons to influence, and the family comes to discover they are living in the same house that grandma Lois lived in years ago. Yes, there are no such things as coincidences in a “Paranormal Activity” movie.

Let me start with “The Ghost Dimension’s” biggest problem, it feels like a movie. The previous installments, even “Paranormal Activity 4,” never made me feel like I was watching a movie. Instead, they felt like documents of real people being haunted by forces they can’t control and which encroach mercilessly on their safety. They felt real, but here everything feels highly scripted as the actors are forced to utter a lot of exposition in an effort to explain to the audience what Toby’s big plan is. As a result, everything feels contrived, and the movie comes across as just another exercise in found footage terror.

Furthermore, the characters are frustratingly one-dimensional and incredibly idiotic to put it mildly. A lot of opportunities to make them relatable or the least but likable are blown by the screenwriters as I never came to care much about them. After a while, I became more eager to see them become devilish entertainment for Toby. I do have to say, however, that Ivy George does very good work here as Leila, and she provides “The Ghost Dimension” with some of its most haunting moments as her face becomes a mask of possession which makes her intensely unpredictable.

The real big news about “The Ghost Dimension” is it’s the first “Paranormal Activity” movie to be shown in 3D. Now I’ve seen 3D used to great effect in Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” and Gaspar Noe’s “Love,” but watching it here only reminded me of how “The Ghost Dimension” feels more like a movie and less like an experience. In the end, the extra dimension feels like a stunt which adds nothing to the proceedings.

Also, in its attempts to answer many of the questions we have about Toby, it makes this horrifically violent demon look no different from so many others in cinematic history. Just as it was with the first two “Alien” movies, the thought of the monster is far scarier than the sight of it, and seeing Toby in his demonic form just takes away from what’s frightening about him. And the explanation of Toby’s “plan” feels like something out of a dozen other horror movies.

The original “Paranormal Activity” was supposed to be a stand-alone movie. It was supposed to end with Katie dying, but Paramount Pictures decided to change this ending and made Katie look like she was invaded by some evil force. The movie’s amazing success ensured sequels would be made whether we liked it or not, but the first two actually added to the original’s ending and built up a mythology which left audiences endlessly intrigued. But watching “The Ghost Dimension” makes me realize there was no way anyone could have concluded this mythology in a satisfactory manner. The revelation of Toby’s big plan sounds like something out of a dozen other horror movies, and it made me wish I knew a lot less about him.

“Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” does leave the door open for another sequel as the demonic force takes on a new form, but this really should be the last one for a while at the very least. It’s sad to see this franchise end on a banal note as things began feeling fresh again after “The Marked Ones,” but many horror franchises tend to overstay their welcome, and “Paranormal Activity” is just the latest example. We need to face the facts; the thrill is gone.

* ½ out of * * * *

Please check out the following reviews:

Paranormal Activity

Paranormal Activity 2

Paranormal Activity 3

Paranormal Activity 4

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

 

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‘Paranormal Activity 3’ Avoids the Curse of the Prequel

Paranormal Activity 3 movie poster

In a lot of ways, “Paranormal Activity 3” shouldn’t work. It’s the third movie in an astonishingly popular series which eventually replaced “Saw” as the official franchise for the month of October each year. The third in a trilogy is also when the series starts running out of creative juices and becomes bound by an increasingly worn out formula. Maybe it’s time to move on to the next big thing in horror, right? Not quite.

Despite the inescapable feeling of déjà vu, “Paranormal Activity 3” still has the power to scare and unnerve viewers, and I knew exactly what I was doing when I watched it at night. This one comes from the makers of “Catfish,” and they follow the familiar found footage setup to where nothing may be new, but they still generate a number of jump-out-of-your-seat moments which will freak out even the most jaded of moviegoers.

Whereas “Paranormal Activity 2” was a prequel and a sequel, this third movie is a flat-out prequel which takes place 18 years before the events of the original. Sisters Katie and Kristi, played by Katie Featherston and Sprague Grayden in the previous films, are seen here as children who live with their mother Julie (Lauren Bittner) and stepdad Dennis (Christopher Nicholas Smith). Things get weird, however, when Kristi gets an invisible friend named Toby, and strange occurrences develop in their home with increasing volatility.

Since this prequel takes place in 1988, the filmmakers get to work technology now seen as prehistoric as this was a time of video cameras and VHS tapes. Part of it serves as a needless reminder of how Betamax got its ass kicked years ago. While the technology is limited compared to what the characters had at their disposal in the previous films, this forces everyone here to get creative with what they have.

Once again, the man of the house (and it’s always the man) sets up a barrage of video cameras in various rooms to figure out what craziness is going on in order to put a stop to it. The only disadvantage is VHS tapes only allow for 6 hours of recording at the most. But somehow the spirits do make their appearance before the tape runs out which is rather convenient for everyone involved.

The one new thing in “Paranormal Activity 3” is how Dennis comes up with the idea of attaching one video camera to the base of a fan. As the camera veers from side to side, we have another reason to be tense about what we’re watching. Will there be something on the other side about to jump out at us? This quickly becomes a clever device which distinguishes this film from its predecessors.

“Paranormal Activity 3” does, however, get off to a shaky start. There were a bunch of cheap scares which, whether they worked or not, had me worrying this prequel would be overrun with them. While they provided the audience with a several good jolts, it made me wonder if the series was beginning to descend into self-parody. Once this happens, the series might as well end. Fortunately, things straighten out as the happenings inside the house become increasingly unrelenting in their viciousness.

There are many moments which had my hair standing on end. We see furniture moving around by itself, a character running into something not visible, and someone’s hair getting grabbed. “Paranormal Activity 3” may seem like business as usual, but this business is still producing terrifying moments just as things are beginning to look old. Like the previous entries, I’m not entirely sure how the filmmakers pulled off certain special effects (the one at the very end is very painful to witness), and I don’t want to know for fear of breaking the illusion.

I recently watched “The Thing” which was a prequel to John Carpenter’s 1982 film. It reminded me of the problems with prequels in general as you know from the start who is going to live and die, and the suspense gets diluted as a result. The advantage “Paranormal Activity 3” has is, while we know the little girls will survive and live on in future installments, we aren’t sure what the fate of the adults will be. Katie and Kristi only reveal so much about what happened to them as children in the second film, so we are left to guess if any adults hanging around these kids will ever live to see tomorrow. Had the girls revealed the exact chronology of events, this prequel would have been screwed from the get go.

Many critics have voiced that they have had their fill of the “Paranormal Activity” films it, but the formula behind them still works very well and has me pinned to my seat. That invisible spirit can still scare the crap out of me, and it made me look forward to “Paranormal Activity 4.” Granted, Paramount Pictures and Oren Peli can only keep this franchise going for so long, but they have made it this far without losing any of the power which made the original so damn scary. Here’s hoping the filmmakers don’t trip over themselves in the future. We all know what happened to “Blair Witch 2: Book of Shadows.”

By the way, you’ll never look at a Bloody Mary (the drink I mean) the same way after this prequel is over. Watch the movie and you’ll see what I mean.

* * * out of * * * *