In spite of connections to the ongoing series saga, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension could easily be mistaken for an Asylum B-movie knockoff.
In 2013, the Fleege family - father Ryan (Chris J. Murray), mother Emily (Brit Shaw), and seven-year-old daughter Leila (Ivy George) - prepare for their first Christmas in a new house. Joined by Ryan's brother, Mike (Dan Gill) and Emily's best friend Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley), the family begins decorating for the upcoming holiday until Ryan and Mike discover a mysterious custom video recorder capable of capturing images that normal cameras cannot see.
In addition to the camera, the Fleege brothers also find a series of VHS tapes dating back to the late 1980s - home videos that chronicle the lives of two sisters, Kristi and Katie. As unexplainable events begin to occur in the family's house, Ryan becomes obsessed with the camera, its connection to the mysterious home tapes, and a shadowy figure that cannot be seen through standard video equipment.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension marks the "final entry" (time and profits will tell) in the fan-favorite found footage series created by Oren Peli. Unfortunately, where the original Paranormal Activity was a refreshing and haunting indie movie experience, thanks to quality storytelling, clever implementation of the found footage format, and most importantly, chilling use of the unseen to terrorize viewers, The Ghost Dimension is a desperate attempt to salvage the series' waning popularity by going bigger (with CGI special effects) rather than better (a return to the subtlety that made the original two films special).
Director Gregory Plotkin completes the series' transformation from inspired haunted house horror to an unimaginative frame for found footage gimmickry - this time in 3D. Like prior entries, The Ghost Dimension story develops within the standard Paranormal Activity template: a nice family moves into new house/meets a new person, strange things begin to occur, a connection to Katie and Kristi is uncovered, Toby gets name-dropped, and strange things become scary - then life-threatening. To his credit, Plotkin attempts to bring all of the earlier movies full-circle with a film that could act as the final chapter - should Peli decide to finally lay the franchise to rest; yet, where The Ghost Dimension is a passable (though half-baked) endpoint, it's still thinly-scripted and does little to actually make the events of recent Paranormal Activity films matter - especially PA 4 and The Marked Ones.
Similarly, Ghost Dimension's effort in continuing (and potentially capping) the franchise narrative come at the expense of quality Paranormal Activity activity scares - which are few in number and lacking in originality. The Ghost Dimension, as a concept, completely undermines the series' most successful component - fear of the unknown (and unseen). Instead, Ryan's camera allows the characters and viewers insight into previously mysterious things. At times, the effect, which presents any "paranormal activity" as a fluid-like black ether will be overly-familiar (and tired) to horror movie fans - who have seen countless amorphous spectral entities in better films for decades. Worst of all, by the time Ghost Dimension's entity begins to appear more frequently in the final act, the effect is more distracting than terrifying - because in-your-face CGI moments are direct-to-DVD-quality bad.
Paranormal Activity characters have never been particularly well-defined, layered, or even all that likable but The Ghost Dimension's roster, much like everything else in the film, is full of half-hearted outlines and relationships the series has already explored to exhaustion. The actors do their best, with mixed results, but there is nothing new to be mined from Ryan's attempt to uncover the truth behind Ghost Dimension's haunting or Emily initially dismissing his obsession as paranoia. Mike and Skyler are included only to provide the Fleege family with additional exposition partners, and the act three addition of Father Todd (Michael Krawic) into the mix, as Paranormal Activity's latest catholic priest cliché, contributes more to the plot (setting up the film's climax) than he does as a living participant in each scene.
Connections to previous Paranormal Activity movies allow for brief appearances from past characters (though Katie Featherston couldn't be bothered to appear this round) and the revisiting of key franchise moments. Nevertheless, juxtaposed with The Ghost Dimension's cast and events, these connections only make it more apparent that Peli and producer Jason Blum are going through the motions at this point - with only minor gimmicks to iterate on a seven-year-old formula. Sadly, the film's biggest change-up, the inclusion of 3D (and the "Ghost Dimension") is a detriment rather than an asset to the film throughout.
After Ryan's initial discovery of a fluid-like aura in the home, which is genuinely creepy in early shots (thanks to subtle use of the custom camera), Plotkin then opens a floodgate of drab CGI and gimmicky 3D pop-out shots. Worst of all, due to the darkening affect of 3D theater projection, coupled with nighttime settings, Ghost Dimension's onscreen presentation is muddled, dim, and hard on the eyes. Nearly one decade after digital 3D was applied to blockbuster consumer films, it's hard to forgive such a mundane (and downright incompetent) attempt to cash-in on 3D ticket sales.
In spite of connections to the ongoing series saga, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension could easily be mistaken for an Asylum B-movie knockoff. For a film franchise that has grossed over $800 million at the global box office (on production budgets that have never exceeded $5 million), it's shocking how little innovation or return-on-investment has occurred in the Paranormal Activity series (neither story nor core film concept).
Fans who have stuck with the franchise, even as it waned in recent years, will probably want to see The Ghost Dimension - to finish-out their time with the series (for the time being). However, it's still hard to recommend paying to see Plotkin's movie in theaters, much less in 3D, since the actual film is a convoluted blend of franchise cash-grabbing and unscary set pieces - topped-off by a final act that, despite bringing the Paranormal Activity story to its most obvious conclusion, is hardly a solid (or satisfying) ending to the series. Instead, The Ghost Dimension offers some closure to past events - a place for the filmmakers to put the series to rest until audiences are ready for another installment, be it a new Paranormal Activity entry or full-on Paranormal Activity reboot.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension runs 88 minutes and is Rated R for language and some horror violence. Now playing in 2D and 3D theaters.
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