Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension

3 out of 5

Directed by: Gregory Plotkin

This is certainly purely opinion, but ‘The Ghost Dimension’ is not a hope-inspiring subtitle in terms of suggesting a great movie. The Marked Ones worked for me; it vibed with my read of the Paranormal Activity lore, and has a slightly menacing undertone. Ghost Dimension, meanwhile, sounds like a knock-off; the point in a franchise when the baton is handed off and we can expect diminishing returns.

Architect Christopher Landon is no longer writing, and the movie immediately kicks off with some of the elements from the (to me) worst entry, PA4: there’s no justification for the constant camera use at all, and the featured family isn’t unlikable (or poorly presented by our actors), but is entirely unremarkable. And then we get back to the “Night ##” title cards, and it’s a knee-jerk effect, that we’d be back to business-as-usual so soon after the superior previous entry.

There are other things wrong with Ghost Dimension. While the PA series has often used computer-tweaked effects, the focus has been primarily on physical things that go subtly bump in the night. I’m not against things getting a bit more supernatural and visual, but GD goes ahead and jumps in head first with lots of CG and it’s not a great blend for the night-cam, shaky style of the footage. And prior to this, while we do eventually get some justification for the video footage, it’s hair-thin, and doesn’t really do anything to explain why anyone’s filming at all of the other unjustified moments, including the casual stuff before the plot kicks in. It’s just, like, hey, it’s a PA film, so give someone a camera.

But, whoosh, new writers Harry Pagan, Andrew Deutschman, Adam Robitel, and Gavin Heffernan manage to counter as much of this as possible by standing atop Landon’s base and really, really building on it. Despite not caring one lick for the Fleege family, and despite those unconvincing effects, the way the plot expands here is damned exciting. Conceptually, this was a really pleasing entry, only juggled with questionable execution.

Some cool ideas: the Fleege’s discover an old camcorder and some tapes in the house into which they’ve recently moved, and we get to review footage snaking through and around the previous PA flicks. This is an awesome way to insert exposition without cheating it, and you could’ve structured the flick around this, backing up into a reason to be watching VHS tapes. But in addition, Ryan Fleege (Chris J. Murray) discovers that the camcorder seems to be picking up odd distortions around the house – three-dimensional shadows; distortions of light. Thank crumbus they never outright call this ‘the ghost dimension,’ but this was also a smart way to encourage the POV stuff. It’s dumbed up by a multi-camera setup thereafter, and the sighingly befuddled lack of planning these protagonists employ – i.e. “let’s film it, and then….? Uh, let’s film it some more!” – but still, I thought this was a cool way to step beyond the bump-in-the-night limitations. The eventual visuals these allows for are actually neat by design, as well, if not for the mismatch in styles I’d mentioned. (I’d say the CG artists actually did a good a job as possible – nothing’s outright janky – but maybe a push for some more practical elements would’ve helped.) And the movie moves fast, maybe to a fault. We skip past almost all of the disbelief stuff, and get both Ryan and his wife (Brit Shaw) and their friends in on combatting the evil spirit / demon that’s taken up residence in their home; edits cut out everything except the most targeted plot points – catching everyone up on the coven, and some of the wackier stuff from The Marked Ones – and then our four writers innovate on it. The speed definitely helps in overlooking the flaws, and I can’t deny my excitement as to the way things were developed, but with less emphasis on momentum, there could’ve been a smarter version of this movie.

I can understand the general negative reception this entry had, as it’s bemarked by the series’ indulgences, and has a reach that’s beyond it’s grasp. But I found myself pleased more than not regarding that latter – I’d rather a late-in-a-franchise entry try for big swings like this as opposed to toeing the line, and the fun I had with those swings very much helped in moving past its flaws.