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“PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION” (Movie Review)

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PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION is about a little girl who stays up too late talking to a mysterious “friend”—and like her, it’s past time to put this film series to bed.

Beyond the other problems with this fifth/sixth in the franchise (depending on whether you count the offshoot flick THE MARKED ONES as canon), the major one is that we’ve simply seen it all before. Although it’s been pitched as “the final chapter” that wraps up all the plot threads and solves all the mysteries of its predecessors, the movie offers very little in the way of revelation. Pretty much everything its characters learn along the way is stuff that fans already know or can have gleaned from the earlier films, leaving those viewers in the position of waiting for GHOST DIMENSION’s protagonists to catch up with them, which doesn’t help with the suspense.

The movie has been getting some press in the trades lately for a release strategy in which it will be hitting VOD less than three weeks after dropping below a certain theater count, cheesing off certain exhibition chains and resulting in a smaller-than-usual release. As added incentive for people to check out the big-screen showings, 3D has been added for the first time in the series, but director Gregory Plotkin and his team only really have fun with it in the last 15 minutes, when spooky hands and faces pop out into the audience. There are also a couple of neat dimensional spectral sightings in the earlier going, even if they resemble hovering clouds of supernatural dust bunnies.

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The vehicle for this new view of the paranormal is an old video camera discovered by a family living on that beleaguered property where bad stuff once happened to sisters Katie and Kristi. The plot is pretty much the same as in the previous sequels, as more bad stuff happens to the current brood, and they slowly realize there are phantoms and demons afoot. The key word here is “slowly,” as parents Ryan (Chris J. Murphy) and Emily (Brit Shaw) and Ryan’s visiting brother Mike (Dan Gill) take an awfully long time to realize that staying put in the place might not be a good idea, even as they witness frightening apparitions and little daughter Leila (Ivy George) starts misbehaving and talking about her new pal Toby. (The ensemble also includes a pretty young woman played by THE VATICAN TAPES’ Olivia Taylor Dudley, whose only purpose in the story seems to be fulfilling the pretty-young-woman quotient.) They’re eventually told that, in the new tradition of genre flicks, the haunting is focused on Leila and not the house, so making tracks won’t do them much good, but that’s long after any reasonable person would have at least attempted to get the kid out of harm’s way.

Ryan, of course, is one of those types obsessed with capturing everything on video, and when he discovers that he can see the strange presences through that vintage camera, all the footage we see is captured on it, cuing the introduction of the 3D element. He also finds a box of VHS cassettes documenting the indoctrination of the past films’ preteen heroines into a satanic cult, and there are a couple of moments where the scriptwriters (four of ’em this time, plus another who helped come up with the story) have a little fun with the juxtaposition of this old footage and the current reality, but not nearly enough. In very large part, the new DIMENSION is strictly visual; there are no fresh ideas and very little variation from the already well-established scare tactics. When the inevitable priest is finally called in to try to solve the problem, the screenplay strains to be different by establishing that what’s called for here is not an exorcism. What our heroes do attempt, though, is a pretty harebrained scheme, and here’s a tip for characters in future PARANORMAL movies: If you’re going to perform a ritual involving a magic circle drawn on the floor, make sure it’s large enough to comfortably fit whoever/whatever is supposed to stand/be trapped inside it.

And yes, by the way, despite the claims that this is “the final chapter,” GHOST DIMENSION ends pretty much the same way as all its predecessors, with one more nighttime run/crawl through Paranormal Central to a door left open for another follow-up, just in case. Hopefully, any such temptation won’t be acted upon; this filmmaking team had a good thing going for a while, but should really occupy themselves now with more creative and challenging activities.

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Ken Michaels
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