Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension has the unenviable task of being a franchise finale, responsible for satisfactorily wrapping up the six(6!) film series about haunted houses and the idiots who film them. It’s doesn’t really do anything particularly well in light of the previous films’ repeatedly running into the ground the series’ tropes. As a low-budget found-footage flick, (although $5 million compared to the original’s $15,000 is the biggest indicator it was time for the end) it’s fine.
Which is to say, it’s not very good at all.
We get yet another family unit to watch self-destruct over the course of the runtime. In this case, it’s Ryan (Chris J. Murray) and Emily Fleege (Brit Shaw), parents to Leila (Ivy George), who are hosting Chris’ brother Mike (Dan Gill) and Emily’s friend Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley) for the holidays. A lot of the problems with the film come back to the filmmakers’ clumsy attempts at making these characters real. It’s a familiar horror movie challenge but these roles have become so rote that dwelling on their mundane lives prior and during the haunting comes across boring and disingenuous.
Directed by longtime series editor Gregory Plotkin, what makes this installment “special” is its newly-added 3-D, the titular “ghost” that steals from unsuspecting moviegoers wallets. I saw the film in dopey ole 2-D, but its easy to see where the effect would be implemented. In-universe, it is brought about by an old camera Ryan finds that performs “spirit photography,” allowing franchise fans at long last peaks of what’s making things go bump in the night.
The Paranormal Activity series is the little franchise-that-could. The original called to mind 1999’s The Blair Witch Project for its lo-fi thrills and scares but unlike that film, which never extended beyond a poorly-received sequel, spawned a successful franchise. Indeed, it spawned an industry, with financier Jason Blum’s Blumhouse banner delivering several more low-budget horror franchises since, including Insidious, Sinister and The Purge.
For its humble beginnings, the series built a respectable mythology behind the haunting and constant filming, effectively teasing out questions for six years: who is the demon Toby and what does he want? Why is the witches’ coven helping him? What does he look like? When somebody is leading a journey, you want to feel safe that they know where they’re going. While it was nice to think we were in good hands on this journey, sadly, the revelations in Ghost Dimension do not stack up logically or emotionally with prior installments. It’s, at best, more of the same rather than a fitting ending for the flagging franchise.