Oren Peli defied the odds with his 2009 debut feature, "Paranormal Activity
," a $15,000-budgeted found-footage fright flick that became a breakout phenomenon based on its viral "Demand It!" theatrical campaign while earning the kind of word-of-mouth rarely seen since 1999's "The Blair Witch Project
." Fast becoming one of the most profitable films of all time (earning over $193-million worldwide), a new horror franchise was birthed just as the annual "Saw
" pics were losing their luster. Six years and five sequels later, the "Paranormal Activity" installments have followed Jigsaw's suit, fading within pop-culture's fickle, here-and-now consciousness. Sensing it is time to wrap things up, Paramount Pictures and Blumhouse Productions aim to conclude their lucrative demonic spookathon with "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension." While the story reaches something of a conclusion (albeit a singularly ho-hum one), do not expect it to fill in all the remaining gaps of the previous films' twisted mythos. If this is the best that could be concocted for a grand finale, this series would have been wise to end about three movies ago.
While putting up Christmas decorations with visiting brother Mike (Dan Gill), Ryan (Chris Murray) happens upon a bulky, '80s-era camcorder and a box filled with videocassettes. There is something odd about this still-functional camera, however, the lens seeming to capture manifestations not seen by the naked eye. Soon after, Ryan and wife Emily (Brit Shaw) grow concerned by 7-year-old daughter Leila's (Ivy George) withdrawn demeanor and change in personality. Leila sees someone named Toby lurking in the house, and knows it is only a matter of time before he takes her away. If Ryan and Emily have any chance of saving their daughter, they will need to figure out a way to stop the demonic forces haunting them.
"Did they just film everything
?" Mike asks as he exhaustively records Ryan spinning through the umpteenth home movie featuring young Katie (Jessica Brown) and Kristi (Chloe Csengery), the sisters in the 1992 videos very much different from their 1988 selves. If this query is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, debuting director Gregory Plotkin (the editor of 2010's "Paranormal Activity 2
," 2011's "Paranormal Activity 3
," 2012's "Paranormal Activity 4
," and 2014's "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
") does not tip his hat to such ironies. He and his writersthat would be Jason Harry Pagan & Andrew Deutchman (2015's "Project Almanac
") and Adam Robitel & Gavin Heffernen (2014's "The Taking of Deborah Logan")play the goings-on very much straight, even as the tired strain of its conventions is, by now, ripe for humor. No matter how many malevolent run-ins they experience, no matter how many time-space portals they go through, and no matter how dire their overall situation becomes, this family insists on running around with cameras in their hands. They also take so long to leave the house the mind positively boggles. Even after they finally go to a hotel, Mike and Emily's yoga-happy sister Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley) deem it wise to return to the scene of the bad mojo so they can take their good, old time rooting around and investigating.
As a title, "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" is nonsensical; it was established in the original picture the source of the hauntings were demonic in nature, not of previously living spirits. Beyond this snafu, the film cannot escape its been-there-done-that aura. In place of an inventive springboard for seat-leaping frightssorry, no camera jerry-rigged to an oscillating fan hereare creatively stale scenes of black, computer-generated plasma floating through hallways and occasionally bum-rushing the camera. The characters, meanwhile, are developmental stick figures; taking place over a span of three weeks in late-November and December 2013, the narrative never bothers to establish if anyone has jobs or if Leila goes to school. Day after day, every hour of their time appears to be free and clear to walk around, get spooked or blown asunder by an evil entity, and then shrug it aside without bothering to head straight for the front door. Whether or not leaving would solve their problem is beside the point; wouldn't any person of average intelligence at least try?
The third act of "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" ramps up the chaos and bombastic special effects in an attempt to deliver the payoff it assumes viewers want. The trouble is, the loose ends from the past five entries are either only half-dealt with, or squandered altogether (even actor Katie Featherstonthe sole constant cast member threaded through the seriesis MIA, the whereabouts of her character only passingly mentioned). Setting the film around the holidays is one of the few inspired aspects; the juxtaposition of Christmas decorations and seasonal music with the fight for a child's soul sets the story apart when it far too often plays like an inferior carbon copy of the franchise's best chapter, "Paranormal Activity 3
." There is also a halfway clever moment where Mike discovers Kristi is interacting with his present-day surroundings in the 1992 footage he is watching. Struggling for compliments to pay the almost entirely unscary "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension" is quite the opposite of how tense, edgy and ingeniously crafted the initial trilogy were. There was a fleeting time when "Paranormal Activity" was the hottest ticket around for the Halloween movie season, a time capsule hitting the bull's-eye of a particular cultural and cinematic zeitgeist. The magic they once held, sadly, is no more.