The sixth and final film of the Paranormal Activity series has come a long way from Oren Peli’s 2007 found footage horror and in a sense it was always going to be this way. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension comes on the heels of 2014’s surprisingly decent Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and attempts to provide answers for all the action before it.
This 2015 entry is directed by Gregory Plotkin, who edited the last four movies in the series. He brings the expected style, with plenty of awful special effects spilling into the corners of the frames and more than a few questionable aesthetic choices. While other flicks in the bunch had a certain silly craftsmanship, Plotkin goes all out.
Ryan Fleege (Chris J. Murray) and his wife Emily (Brit Shaw) live in a big house with their eight-year-old daughter Leila (Ivy George). Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) arrives after breaking up with his girlfriend. One day, they discover some old videotapes. The tapes, dating from the late 1980s to the early 1990s, reveal strange rituals and two little girls named Kristi (Jessica Tyler Brown) and Katie (Chloe Csengery).
Soon, outlandish events begin to snowball. There are noises and Ryan sees weird stuff on his camera. Leila begins to act out and a black figure eventually rises out of the ground with designs on seizing the kid. Ryan and Emily start to put together the clues, eventually calling a priest (Michael Krawic) to help sort things out.
Many of the series’ tropes are at play, of course. The family is ridiculously affluent and the dad has a cool job. In this case, Ryan is a videogame designer. He has a full slate of cameras and electronic equipment, which means he has just the right stuff to play the grubby VHS tapes and always drags his damn camera around.
Those wondering why the characters in Paranormal Activity films always, always, always hold on to the camera will be frustrated by The Ghost Dimension, as the futile by-committee screenplay has them drag it around no matter what happens. Even when Emily seeks out her missing daughter, she makes sure she gets a good shot of it through the lens.
The original Paranormal Activity mined extensive thrills from the psychology of the characters and the use of a stationary camera. It had audiences scanning the corners, wondering if they saw something go bump in the night. As the series progressed, that device was abandoned for advancing technology and the scares went with it.
The Ghost Dimension abandons almost all sense of confinement and drags the lens everywhere, but it’s the special effects that really set this one apart. It hauls the kitchen sink out of its foggy grave and lobs it at the audience. There are countless effects that feature fatty black blurs racing noisily past the screen, amounting to pointed jump scare after pointed jump scare.
There is all manner of lunacy in The Ghost Dimension. Plotkin and cinematographer John Rutland do pull out some neat tricks, like when Ryan thinks he sees a disturbing Santa Claus or when a presence starts making itself known in the backyard. But things go overboard quickly and the scares are telegraphed, with the chills counting on reflexes rather than suspense.
Plotkin and his screenwriters don’t seem very interested in resolution, especially given the potential to weave things together in a way that reveals there was at least some elementary thought behind the proceedings. Offering an entirely new clan doesn’t seem overly wise, either, especially when the goal is to put a period on the series’ history.
It’s apparent from the outset that the creators of this yarn have run out of gas. They’ve abandoned critical plot points, like the interesting folklore from The Marked Ones and the importance of Hunter, and they’ve opted to throw giant splotches of black around instead. It’s a tiresome cop-out, but in a sense it’s a worthy conclusion for the series that almost always disappointed.