With the arrival of “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension”, the sixth and supposedly final film in the blockbuster found-footage franchise, now’s as good a time as any to take stock of what they’ve done right. And obviously they have, nearly $1B in sales can attest to that, but they’ve also managed to build something long-lived out of Oren Peli’s simple “rattle the chandeliers” premise about a yuppie couple trapped in a possessed home. More backstory has been ladled on with each film, some of it more relevant than others, and upping the technology has helped distract from the rather flat, vacant look. But if ‘The Ghost Dimension’ confirms anything it’s that better effects don’t mean squat when you’re fresh out of ideas.
Series editor Gregory Plotkin takes the directing reins and with him comes a technical sizzle the previous films have lacked. Some of the best use of 3D this year reveals the looming, eerie presence of the supernatural in another bland suburban family’s home. They only just moved in, but when the dorky dad and his brother discover an oddly-customized video camera and a bunch of VHS tapes, all sorts of weird crap starts happening. Turns out they belonged to another family, one with two little girls involved in some kind of weird cult. Now this new family’s daughter is acting strangely and the fear is that the demon “Toby” is coming to steal her away into the “ghost dimension”, which looks a lot like “The Further” from the “Insidious” films.
Never mind that Toby is hardly the scariest name for an all-powerful demon, this is easily the least terrorized family in the franchise’s 6-year history, which is why their names are irrelevant. The old tricks simply don’t hold the same shock value they once did. It used to be that we’d grip our armrests a little tighter when night would fall because we knew something awful was going to happen. The slightest movement of bedsheets or the slow rocking of a chair was enough to inspire incredible tension, but that sensation is largely absent here. Bucking the trends of pretty much every successful horror film, ‘The Ghost Dimension’ shows us too much of the demon, thinking it’ll still be scary as long as it’s done in 3D. They’re wrong, and that it looks like a blob of black licorice doesn’t help. The 3D effect becomes a crutch to be leaned on because there’s no tension to speak of.
While the 3D is impressive, it’s still not good enough to justify paying more for it. Paramount Pictures seems to agree, which is why they’re also releasing the film on VOD in just a few weeks as part of some special deal. Nobody should have to pay more for a ghost that does little but tip see-saws and act as a girl’s imaginary friend. Pretty dull. If spending extra money to watch a little girl sleep is your thing…well, then you’ve got bigger problems. There’s a labored attempt to connect this family’s ordeal with what came before, but the whole thing is tenuous at best and doesn’t reward those who have been following along since the beginning. And that is ultimately all “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension” should have been trying to do; rewarding the fans who have enjoyed getting scared out of their minds. Instead, those fans will walk away perfectly calm and highly disappointed, glad that the ghost dimension is also the final dimension.