The sixth and purportedly final installment in the Paranormal Activity series and the last remnant of the found footage genre, can the activity finally resolve itself into an action which will justify not only itself but the past five films? Even recent and relatively successful attempts such as M Night Shyamalan’s The Visit were unable to revitalise this once fresh and innovative genre and fix the shortcomings which have become endemic.
Unfortunately The Ghost Dimension ticks all these boxes: poor acting, underdeveloped characters, cliched situations, amateur production values and a continued reliance on a single idea rather than a developed script and the hope that the audience will continue to pay money for the same variations on an exhausted theme.
Ryan Fleege (Grand Theft Auto voice artist Chris J Murray), his wife Emily (Nashville‘s Brit Shaw), and their eight-year-old daughter Leila (Ivy George) are preparing to celebrate Christmas in their new home entertaining friends, one of whom draws their attention to Leila’s imaginary playmate, a boy she has named Toby. While tidying the garage Ryan finds a customised videocamera and a box full of videotapes dating from between 1988 to 1992 which contain recordings of a mysterious cult and their ceremonies revolving around an entity who is also named Toby.
Playing around with the camera, Ryan discovers that it picks up a strange presence around the house which he is unable to see otherwise, a presence which grows stronger with every night and is soon ready to strike…
Presenting almost the same story already offered in the previous installments released in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014, while it is appreciated that the producers have decided to offer a conclusion, in fact that decision is long overdue. With the films remaining incomprehensibly financially successful (The Marked Ones generated eighteen times its budget), their critical reception has plunged with each subsequent release so it is perhaps possible the studio have only now admitted that they are fooling nobody.
The directorial debut of Gregory Plotkin and with four credited screenwriters (Jason Pagan, Andrew Stark, Adam Robitel, and Gavin Heffernan) trying to tidy all the loose ends and desperately pretend that from the beginning they knew what they were doing, how the story would progress and wrap up (even though none of them have had previous story involvement with the series), in reality the final movie doesn’t make much sense and feels less like a “conclusion” than an abandonment.
The attempt to create much deeper “mythology” of the series is unconvincing, the makers moving from the formerly simple story of a haunted house in the direction of The Omen; now the coven is trying to bring to Earth one of the lords of Hell, the stalked Fleege family the last stand of humanity. Had these elements and the family been introduced earlier in the sequence they might have have felt less like gatecrashers just as the party was about to wrap up, but as it stands this new take on Paranormal Activity is in disharmony with the previous parts.
Even within itself, The Ghost Dimension is full of plot holes and contradictions: why would midwives require the “ghost camera,” a piece of technology to record their rituals and communicate with Toby? Why would the camera itself and all the recordings haVe been left behind to be found by the family the coven intend to target? Through the whole series the cult was operating from the shadows, hidden, setting a trap for the innocent and unsuspecting families, selling the house via substituted real estate agents, only now to leave behind hard evidence of their existence and plans; wouldn’t keeping the family in ignorance have made the whole operation much easier?
The grand finale awaited by the hardcore fans of the series is a disappointing anti-climax; after five movies of jump-scares, empty rooms, bad photography and the occasional ritual killings, one could reasonably expect that the coven required the chosen children to perform some terrifying and bloody ritual, but no, the midwives just need a drop of blood from the children who remain otherwise unharmed and well. Couldn’t this have been achieved equally effectively and without drawing attention to themselves just by training as a nurse and infiltrating the local medical centre?
As in the previous movies the producers continue their attempts to be innovative and creative with new ways of scaring the audience – or at least, keeping them awake – and following the creeping horror of the panning camera then the use of XBOX Kinect, here the “ghost camera” is definitely a step too far in the same way as was the scene set “beyond” in the wretched Poltergeist remake released at the start of the year.
The strongest element of any horror film is always the fear of the unknown, the unseen cause of strange noises, a glimpse of a moving shadow. In the first Paranormal Activity movie this was the shot of the immobile Kirsty, standing in the middle of the night watching her boyfriend as he slept, where only the fast forward moving camera clock indicated that something dark and sinister was taking place.
The “ghost camera” which allows the audience to see Toby in his whole glory in three ultra modern ghost dimensions – strips any scares from the movie and replaces it with a gimmick, the only true fright in the film being the moment when the demonic Toby flips the expensive recording equipment on the floor, a scene which could prompt a near heart attack to any watching filmmakers.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is now on general release