This personal admission might reveal my youthfulness, but Paranormal Activity is one of the first movies that kickstarted my horror obsession, leading to a franchise I curiously watched morph with every entry. I’ll defend Paranormal Activity 2, where most people don’t, and alternatively, I saw Paranormal Activity 3 as the franchise’s inevitable decline. While we can all agree that Paranormal Activity 4 is a cut-and-dry piece of dookie, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones brought me back with a screaming vengeance, ready for more door-slamming bravado.
So, moment of truth – does Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension close Blumhouse’s near-iconic franchise with a boisterously enraged bang? Nah, it’s more like a inevitably cluttered whimper that attempts to answer all outstanding questions while simultaneously tying a neat little bow around Toby’s debut appearance.
Franchise editor Gregory Plotkin steps in to direct this latest bout of demonic angst, as we meet a couple who fear their house may be infested by a dark presence. Ryan (Chris J. Murray) is first to notice some strange goings-on when he discovers an old video camera that picks up a wavy form in its lens. With the help of his brother Mike (Dan Gill), Ryan realizes that the camera is tricked-out to capture images normal cameras can’t, but his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) laughs off his intrigue. That’s until their daughter, Leila (Ivy George), starts waking up every night so she can talk to her new friend named – you guessed it – Toby. As Ryan continues to record, the shapes he sees become thicker, blacker, and more formulated, which leads to more of the same dangers we’ve experienced before. Can Ryan be the first PA character to save his family?
Let me start by saying DO NOT shell out 3D dollars for this sad excuse at multi-dimensional horror. Only one moment in the entire movie manages to muster something that COULD be pop-out worthy, as most of the “scares” are just a dark blob jutting towards Ryan’s camera. Toby himself amounts to nothing more than a black, yucky goop with no defined shape. This means the jolting lunges are more like blurry combinations of a shaking camera, imminent darkness, and Toby’s indistinguishable form – nothing that needs to be seen in three dimensions. Save your three dollars and split a water bottle with your buddy or something, it’ll be money better spent.
So what about all those questions Jason Blum promised Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension would answer, eh? As a fan of the franchise, The Marked Ones set forth connective suggestions that had my imagination racing, but here comes a story and screenplay that took FIVE people to crack, yet rushes conclusions with minimal satisfaction. We’ve been treated to witches, time travel, evil Katie demons, and so much backstory your head would spin – all of which barely play a factor in Leila’s victimization. Hours of Paranormal Activity exposition are boiled down into a few throwaway mentions (like how the family used an untraceable realtor named…KATIE), and just as Plotkin begins to steady this horror flick’s shaky footing, we’re hit with an abrupt, unsatisfying, lame-duck ending. THIS is how Paranormal Activity is going out?
While Paranormal Activity 4 is a certifiable snoozer, Toby’s hazy form doesn’t permit for many more scares. He can go from being a physical form to a floating cloud, but with flight as his only weapon (for most of the film), we’re left playing a game of “Where’s Toby” every time the camera fixates on a wider frame. More so than most entries, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension manipulates the first-person camera angle for its own advantage, and doesn’t earn scares rooted in lingering tension. Where the original film is built on fist-clenching, atmospheric horror, Plotkin’s film relies on speedy jump scares and quick pops. Sans one sweet death come the film’s rushed conclusion, Toby’s presence is wholly underwhelming – making his entrance less grand, and more “meh.”
In fact, everything about Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension seems rushed. It only takes a few nights for Toby to become fully agitated, Ryan speeds through the same ghost-hunter cycle Micah explored, and even with Mike’s mood-breaking comedy, we don’t have enough time to invest in any of the characters. Each scene speeds along towards Toby’s inevitable finale, yet when chaos overtakes this suburban household, it seems like the film’s writing collective ran out of ideas, and simply wrote “THE END” to meet some internal deadline. For lack of a better description, this is the safe way out for Blumhouse – repurpose some scary franchise moments, give the people Toby, and call it a day with yet another open ending.
Sorry Mr. Blum, I still have more questions, and they start with how you could end (what should be) your most beloved franchise with such a lackadaisical, complacent slog. Paranormal Activity was something special, but this – this is the franchise bookend I’d feared.
Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension is definitely not the ending we deserve to one of this generation's longest-running ghost/witch/demon narratives.