Over the past five movies, the Paranormal Activity series has slowly built up a mysterious mythology. Some people think that story has become too complicated, and diverted things too far away from the horror—but the final Paranormal Activity movie brings it all together in a scary, satisfying way.
Directed by Gregory Plotkin, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension uses both the familiar night-by-night structure of the series’ previous films, as well lots of 3D and visual effects, to craft a story that simultaneously takes the series to to new places, but also scares us in a ton of different ways. There are traditional jump scares, as well as lots pure tension and chill-inducing imagery. Basically, it’s a Paranormal Activity movie on steroids.
The hook with this installment is that we finally get to see Toby, the villain of the Paranormal Activity films—thanks to a special camera that this film’s family mysteriously finds in their new house. When we’re seeing through this camera, Toby takes all kinds of different forms: ominous dust particles, Abyss-like liquid, and even some more terrifying gooey human-shaped forms. Sometimes he’s the Lost smoke monster, and other times he’s Spider-Man’s Venom symbiote suit, if it latched to an Ent. Actually seeing the villain may sound less scary, but Plotkin edits back and forth from the “Spirit photography” camera, giving the audience information the characters don’t have. Sometimes we know Toby is there, but the characters don’t, and that means even when we know things are scary, we sometimes don’t know how we’re about to be scared.
After five films in a franchise, a new visual language like this is crucial. It makes The Ghost Dimension feel like the big climax on a longer story.
The film picks up in 1988, at the very end of Paranormal Activity 3. It continues past the film’s gruesome ending to give some more context to the ongoing story of Katie and Kristi, the two girls long at the center of this world. Things then jump to 2013.
In 2013, the film centers on the Fleege family. Things with the Fleeges seems great until, while decorating for Christmas, they find this new camera and a ton of old tapes. That’s when the movie goes into 3D—and very, very quickly, things start to look very, very bad for them. Even if they don’t realize that yet.
The family itself is undoubtedly one of the biggest problems with The Ghost Dimension. They’re either way too smart, way too stupid, or totally useless. The father, Ryan (Chris J. Murray) puts together information incredibly quickly. At other times, despite indisputable visual evidence, his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) ignores what’s going on. Then there are the brother Mike (Dan Gill) and the random yoga instruction who lives with them, Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley), and these characters don’t add much, if anything.
It immediately becomes obvious that Toby is after Ryan and Emily’s young daughter Leila (Ivy George). That alone makes for some great “creepy kid” moments throughout the film. It also gives Ryan something to investigate. And though he’s some kind of developer in the movie, he should really be a detective, because using the tapes and more, he very quickly unravels the whole mystery of Katie, Kristi, the coven, Hunter, Toby, and how it all links to the house they’re in.
Unfortunately, while Ryan starts to put all this together, it takes a long time for anyone else to believe him. But the audience is glad that Ryan is such a supergenius—because as unlikely as it would be for Ryan to figure all this out, if he doesn’t, the audience isn’t going to get answers to the questions set up over the past five movies. Pay attention, though, because pretty much all the answers you want are in here, but they aren’t waved in your face. They’re sort of peppered in on the side. So while the script might not get there in the cleanest of ways, if you’ve been following the franchise, you do get the resolution you’ve been wanting.
It also helps that the film doesn’t only focus on the 3D gimmick. It’s prevalent, to be sure—but about halfway through the movie Ryan decides to set up cameras in the house at night. At that point, things become just like the first few Paranormal Activity films all over again, and it’s a nice homage for fans. However, unlike those movies, it doesn’t take several nights for things to escalate. We can see Toby on one of the cameras, so from Night 1 things are pretty scary.
That leads us to the classic Paranormal Activity gripe of “why are they still filming?” But the fact that a camera can see Toby almost always answers that question. If you have a tool that allows you to see your enemy, you’d carry it.
Actually, the fact that we see the monster for the majority of the movie is the best part of the movie. Plotkin uses it to great effect not just for the scares, but to ramp things up to a point where, for the first time in the series, the characters finally have the upper hand on Toby. It makes for a climax that kind of feels like it’s from another movie, but also wraps up all these stories at one time.
Make no mistake, if you are a fan of Paranormal Activity, you should see The Ghost Dimension, and you should definitely see it in 3D. There are lots of great scares, but also plenty of answers. There’s enough similarities to the earlier films to feel satisfying, but enough differences to make it stand alone. It’s a worthy entry, and a decent conclusion, to the entire franchise.
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