With “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension,” we have finally reached the end of this long running horror franchise. At least, that’s 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 that evil never dies. That’s a perfect explanation and helps to explain why Michael Meyers keeps coming back to Haddonfield, Freddy Krueger continues to haunt the dreams of teenagers, Jason Voorhees continues to hack up camp counselors, and Pinhead continues to luring 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 that this horror franchise has finally run out of gas once and for all. This sequel returns the series to another tale of a white suburban family that gets terrorized by Toby, and the family keeps looking into the things that go bump in the night even as things get progressively worse. On the upside, this sequel does attempt to answer all the questions we have had about this series and doesn’t just tease us endlessly the way “Paranormal Activity 4” did, but the horror feels very muted this time and nothing is as scary as it once was.
The movie opens with a quick throwback to the back breaking (literally) finale of “Paranormal Activity 3” where young Katie and Kristi are gathered up 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 family which is 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 as well as Skylar (Olivia Taylor Dudley) who is a nanny or a yoga instructor or something.
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 discovering this giant video camera (yes, they used to be that big) which actually allows them to see the spiritual forces hovering around the home, and they 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 that 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 felt like movies. 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 utter a lot of exposition in order 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 fairly one-dimensional and rather idiotic to put it mildly. A lot of opportunities to make them a little more relatable or likable are blown by the screenwriters to where we don’t care much about them. After a while I just became eager to see them become devilish entertainment for Toby. However, I do have to say that Ivy George does some 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 that makes her intensely unpredictable.
The real big news about “The Ghost Dimension” is that it’s the first “Paranormal Activity” movie to be shown in 3D. Now I’ve seen 3D used to great effect recently 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 that extra dimension feels like a stunt that adds nothing to the proceedings.
Also, in its attempts to answer many of the questions we have had 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” sounds like something out of a dozen other horror movies we have seen before.
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 that ending and made Katie look like she was invaded by some evil force. The movie’s amazing success ensured that 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 that had audiences endlessly intrigued. But watching “The Ghost Dimension” makes you realize that there is no way anyone could have concluded this mythology in a satisfactory way. The revelation of his big plan sounds like something out of a dozen other horror movies, and it made me wish that 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 least). It’s sad to see this franchise end on a banal note as the franchise started feeling fresh again after “The Marked Ones,” but then again many horror franchises tend to overstay their welcomes and “Paranormal Activity” is just the latest example of that. There is a palpable sense of tension throughout the movie and its conclusion is highly unnerving, but we need to face facts; the thrill is gone.