Why won’t this franchise die? I know, I know: the Paranormal Activity flicks make a lot of money. But why? Each entry in the franchise is duller, unscarier, and drifts further from the found-footage conceit than the last. I look back through my reviews of the series — start here, then go here, here, and here (I managed to avoid last year’s installment) — and behold increasing despair and exasperation. Then double it again for Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, which is incredibly dull and insufferably self-conscious about forcing itself into a story that was already tediously overplayed in the previous films.
There’s barely anything new added here, and what there is is dragged out over an intolerable 80-something minutes (and feels twice as long). The demon “Toby” (not his real name) is back, haunting yet another family, which dad Ryan (Chris J. Murray) comes to realize when he discovers a weird video camera left behind by the family that used to live the house. (Actually, Ryan’s visiting brother Mike [Dan Gill: The Wedding Ringer] makes the discovery, but any discussion of Mike must inevitably descend into an academic analysis of why horror movies insist on including a randomly asshole-ish character, and I’m just not up for that.) The camera, a jury-rigged thing from the early 1990s, can not only see the “ghost dimension” — which mostly looks like black ashy dust motes floating in the air — but it also sees it in 3D. Because that was the sort of hack you could do to a camcorder 25 years ago. (Maybe Toby is a geek demon and passed on some arcane techie knowledge?) Official! This movie represents the most cynical and contextually inappropriate use of 3D to boost cinema ticket prices ever.
The real-estate-porn aspect of the PA series continues to increase even as the found-footage notion makes less and less sense: while Ryan and his wife, Emily (Brit Shaw: Walk the Line), run around as Toby goes bump in the night trying to seduce cute little eight-year-old Leila (Ivy George) to the dark side, they rarely neglect to take a camera with them while in mortal terror of their daughter’s safety, which means we get an ongoing grand tour of their obnoxiously large McMansion. Part of the power of the first film was in how the couple being haunted and the modest, unchic home where it was happening seemed so normal and relatable. Here, however, we have a 30-ish couple who don’t seem to work — the kid never goes to school, either — with a lifestyle that is even more implausible than the supernatural junk. (Mention is made of how they got an unlikely bargain on the house — poltergeists always get you a discount — but they obviously had no trouble filling these enormous spaces with lovely furniture and luxuries like a pinball machine.) If Nancy Meyers decided to make a horror movie, it might look something like this. That is not a recommendation.
It’s plain that all anyone involved — including the five credited screenwriters and director Gregory Plotkin, a film editor making an inauspicious feature debut — thinks this franchise has going for it is the found-footage notion, and that is ultimately what sinks this one. The slavish adherence to the trope limits some potentially intriguing horror possibilities — such as some creepy real-time communication between two little girls separated by 25 years — while ultimately ignoring big questions the film accidentally raises. This is an assemblage of material from multiple camera sources that has clearly been edited and manipulated — some footage has been sped up in a fast-forwarding sort of way, for instance — so who edited this material? And to what end? Not only are there no answers, the film doesn’t even appear to realize that it is asking such questions. Ghost Dimension represents the most dismal failure of that side of a found-footage movie yet.
“This is so crazy,” one character says of the ghostly shenanigans the family is experiencing. But it’s nothing of the sort. It’s cheap and old-hat and presented in the laziest possible way. Because everyone involved also knows, from past experience with this franchise, that audiences don’t care. And so those audiences are getting yet another crappy, boring movie, because they asked for it.