There is almost no appeal to a sixth Paranormal Activity installment from a storytelling point of view.
But from the studio’s perspective, these films are the ghost that laid the golden egg. They market themselves, finish filming in six weeks, and sport a 1000% return on investment. But you can only make the same movie so many times before people catch on. That’s why Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension adds in a basic premise which reeks of desperation and seems to run counterintuitive to the basis of the entire franchise. This time around, the protagonists (and therefore the audience) recieves a new gimmick, allowing them to actually see the evil forces at work around them. Unfortunately, what we finally see is not something worth waiting through over 500 total minutes of films.
This time around, a new family meets to the demon known as Toby. A few weeks before Christmas, young father Ryan Fleege (Chris J. Murray) and his visiting slacker brother Mike (Dan Gill) discover a bunch of tapes and a customized video camera hidden somewhere in Ryan’s house. While experimenting with the camera, Ryan discovers its ability to detect supernatural occurrences, which show up as bits of black goo and blurriness. Meanwhile, his daughter Leila (Ivy George) begins to display the normal horror-movie child behavior. She talks to her invisible friend Toby, creates demonic-looking drawings, and attacks a priest. As Ryan and his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) investigate further, they begin to discover a connection between Leila and young Kristi and Katie, the young girls taken by the ghost cult at the end of Paranormal Activity 3. (Who are also the adult protagonists of PA 1&2, if you recall).
Allowing the audience to see the demonic presence somehow doesn’t keep The Ghost Dimension from falling into the same traps and using the exact same tactics as its predecessors. We’ve already heard these wooshes, we’ve already jumped at these jump-scares. Toby’s semi-physical form isn’t particularly frightening, so if anything removing the mystery makes the film even less effective. A lot of this has to do with the intentionally-amateurish nature of the film’s editing and cinematography. What started as a conscious limitation has now become an excuse: There are found-footage films which still look good, but Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension knows that it doesn’t have to, so it barely bothers. Although the fast-and-loose appearance is certainly the genre’s hallmark, here it just means that they’ve made a big deal of being able to see things, then gave you nothing to see.
What makes Toby an effective evil presence in these films (from PA2 on) is the same logic which makes possessed children such a viable horror trope. Beyond all the romanticism of childhood, children say and do some really inexplicable things sometimes. Often times, young children will go out of their way to do things they don’t realize will get them hurt or killed. We’re all basically aware of this, and where the franchise succeeds is convincing adults that there is an unseen evil reason behind it. That concept, along with the self-mocking sense of humor appearing the the last three films, are the strengths of the PA franchise. The Ghost Dimension works at blending these elements for its first act, including some genuinely funny and intriguing moments. But once we actually look behind the curtain, the film fails to impress.
By this point, it’s clear that the Paranormal Activity series has gotten lost in its own mythos.
While it may have made sense to introduce the basic end goal of all this three films ago, now it just feels like an afterthought. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension isn’t so much a film as it an expository tool. It’s an attempt to wrap up five films’ worth of loose ends, the final result of which is tedious and dull. Setting aside that “The Ghost Dimension” should join “2 Furious” and “Electric Boogaloo” in the Sequel Subtitle Hall of Fame, this is a film that promises to show you a side of the franchise you’ve never seen before, but ultimately it’s the same lazy premise you were already sick of, recycled in new packaging.
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