WRITTEN REVIEW – Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015)
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension
Directed by: Gregory Plotkin
Written by: Jason Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutschman, Adam Robitel & Gavin Heffernan
Starring: Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Dan Gill, Ivy George & Olivia Taylor Dudley
Release Date: October 23rd 2015
The ‘Paranormal Activity‘ franchise is difficult to discredit in terms of sheer financial success. The first movie from 2007 only cost $15,000 to make and made $193M at the worldwide box-office, making it the most profitable film ever made (disregarding marketing and distribution costs). Over the course of six movies, the franchise has grossed nearly a billion dollars despite only spending what amounts to petty-cash in Hollywood, which is admirable for distributor Paramount Pictures.
Too bad they’re all terrible.
With five previous movies in the franchise, with nearly six hours of screentime, you can probably count the amount of actual “scares” on one hand as their reliance on jump-scares feels lazy and cheap. Despite vast profits, the series has found diminishing returns over the past few instalments so it would seem that Blumhouse Productions want to quit while they’re (creatively) behind and supposedly end the franchise with ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘ which incorporates 3-D elements as well. Can the third dimension actually add something to the series and, most importantly of all, will it actually bother to scare its audience?
Set in 2013, the Fleeges Family comprised of Ryan (Murray), Emily (Shaw) and six year old daughter Leila (George) are about to celebrate Christmas when they’re visited by Ryan’s brother Mike (Gill) who has just broken up with his girlfriend and is staying over for the holidays along with family-friend Skyler (Dudley). Ryan and Mike find an old box of videotapes from 1988 and a custom-built 3-D camera that can capture supernatural activity that is occurring in the house which seems to be revolving around Leila and her imaginary friend “Toby”. The family place cameras around their house in order to capture any paranormal activity taking place as they try to protect their daughter from the spirits of the past manifesting around her.
If you recognise the plot, that’s because it’s the exact same plot as the previous franchise instalments and it has the exact same rhythm, pacing and the exact same set-pieces. Take 5-10 minutes setting up the family, throw in a fake-out “jump scare” and have the paranormal activity (GEDDIT!?) slowly escalate leading into a climax that makes you wonder why the ghost took so friggin’ long to make an effective move. ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘ does NOTHING to shake up the dynamic despite it being worn-out and boring by the time the first movie ended. For a franchise that has had six instalments, it’s pretty insulting to fans of the franchise to not even bother attempting to shake things up.
I have a feeling that if you played all six movies at the exact same time, the scene changes, jump-scares and paranormal escalation would occur at the exact same time in each of them. That’s how trite, moribund and safe this franchise has become despite the financial safety-net.
Honestly, the reasons ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘ sucks is for the same reasons that all previous franchise entries suck. I’m actually kinda at a loss for words here because there’s so little to say plot-wise about this movie other than the fact that the mythology seems wholly-inconsistent, is phenominally difficult to follow and since all of the characters are interchangeable there’s no reason to care about the “expanded universe” of ‘Paranormal Activity‘. There’s not a single effective scare in the entire movie because all of the “scares” are solely comprised of loud noises and JUST loud noises. There’s no tension-building, there’s no effective cinematography or build-up because of the objectively flawed found-footage shakey-camera, there’s no opportunity to get to know these characters because we spend no quality time with them and it’s clear that Skyler only exists in the movie to get some T&A in there.
Seriously, Skyler has ZERO presence in the movie other than wearing a tight-fitting tank-top and sweating a lot.
Emily’s only role in the movie, narratively, is to not believe that there’s any paranormal activity going on. Now, having a character be a skeptic makes sense dramatically because it can create tension and conflict, but the issue with this movie is that her husband Ryan has been doing a remarkable job of documenting everything going on with multiple cameras. He has footage of a black, smokey, tendril-covered ghost-monster thingy standing next to their daughter’s bed for hours on end at night and he also has footage of her daughter’s mirror smashing on its own due to supernatural forces.
And it’s not like Ryan isn’t aware that he’s capturing this footage on the modified ghost-camera. He makes direct reference to it throughout the movie.
So when Emily says that she doesn’t believe anything is going on, does Ryan show her the footage?
Of course he fucking doesn’t.
Ryan has no distinguishable personality traits and while Mike probably comes across the best because he does get some legitimately funny lines throughout the movie (including a great tension-nullifier after the end of a set-piece later on in the movie) he still isn’t particularly interesting. Ivy George gives a good child-performance as the six-year old Leila but the “creepy girl” cliché has been so played out in this franchise and there’s nothing new in this supposedly final instalment.
This movie is so lacking in scares or noteworthy set-pieces that it actually adds loud-noises to the SCENE-CHANGES in order to make the audience jump. It’s clear the film-makers have no idea what actual horror is and are trying anything they can to leave an impact. Apart from, y’know, actually scaring viewers. We also have the same issue here as with every instalment of this franchise; the ghost starts off by doing minor things to scare the people in this house, but once we know what its plans are and what its end-goal is, it makes you wonder why it just didn’t do for the nuclear option straight away.
Oh, and as part of a public-service announcement; A lot of the scares from the trailer aren’t in the movie. And you thought ‘Fant4stic‘ was guilty of false advertising.
The only new addition to the franchise is the 3-D aspect which seems inherently dumb for a franchise like this because they’ve often tried to give the audience a sense of immersion and grounded-realism (they’ve always failed, but at least they’ve tried) so adding the 3-D to try and take the audience on a roller-coaster theme park ride just feels like it’s betraying everything this franchise has been building towards for almost a decade. But it’s an interesting idea, especially how the 3-D only activates when the audience are looking through the customized ghost-camera. It also means that the ghosts and spirits in the house can only be seen through this camera making for some interesting editing techniques…except when they can’t because this movie has commitment/continuity issues as to just when the ghost-camera can and can’t see the spirits.
But it’s only an interesting idea as it is KILLED through terrible execution. First of all, Ryan and Mike know that this camera is the ONLY camera they have that can see the supernatural activity that occurs in Leila’s bedroom. So where do they place the 3-D camera on a tripod in the middle of the night as the paranormal activity escalates?
Outside her bedroom and they place an ordinary, non-ghost camera in her room where all of the ghost-stuff is occurring. Because who needs to know what’s happening in that ghost-laden room, right? It’s only your daughter. She’ll be fine.
We also have the logistical issues of having a camera made from 1988 consumer-grade equipment filming in a 16:9 aspect ratio and in 3-D. But that issue is paltry in comparison to the incalculably terrible decision to make a shakey-cam, found-footage movie in 3-D. I have a high-tolerance for 3-D movies and never get headaches, or motion-sickness from the format. I can watch ‘Cloverfield‘ on the big-screen and feel absolutely fine. But 10 minutes into ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘, I could feel the motion-sickness. At least 10 people had to leave my screening because they were getting so sick from the vomit-inducing, shakey-cam 3-D.
It’s such a stunning error of judgement from everyone involved in this movie creatively that I literally can’t fathom a world where anyone thought this was a good idea.
So you should watch this movie in 2-D, right? Well, probably not because the 3-D feels essential to the movie. It has special 3-D effects whenever the ghost-camera is taken through certain areas of the house, the ghosts fly directly at the viewer, there are still-images that break through the 16:9 window etc. Basically, it’s the gimmicks that look terrible, stupid and out-of-place in a none 3-D environment. Imagine watching ‘Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over‘ or ‘Shrek 4-D‘ on a 2-D screen. It would look stupid. Though not as stupid as the terribly designed CGI ghost in this movie that clearly didn’t have the special effects budget to make it look even remotely convincing.
You can’t win with this movie. You either watch it in 3-D and vomit everywhere. Or you watch it in 2-D and you get a stupid-looking theatrical experience.
Seriously though, what else is there to say about this movie? It’s boring as sin, the scares are non-existent, the movie ends with dozens of unresolved plot-threads despite this being the “final” instalment, the found-footage means there isn’t a single effective scare to be found as 90% of the jump-scares in the movie are non-paranormal fake-outs or just loud-noises and it repeats dozens of moments and set-pieces from the previous movies. There’s nothing inventive here other than the 3-D and even that will make audience members vomit due to the shakey-cam format. While ‘The Gallows‘ from earlier this year might be objectively worse in terms of story, character and lack of scares, at least that movie didn’t cause legitimate, physical pain while watching it and at least that movie hasn’t had five prior instalments to learn lessons from.
With this supposedly final instalment not adding a single effective scare or noteworthy idea to this franchise I think we can definitively say that ‘Paranormal Activity’ is objectively the worst horror franchise in cinema history.
I give ‘Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension‘ 0 stars out of 5.
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Posted: 1st Nov 15