Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is a paranormal themed found footage horror film, and is the sixth and reportedly final installment in the Paranormal Activity franchise. The film is directed by Gregory Plotkin and written by an ensemble of writers: Jason Pagan, Andrew Deutschman, Gavin Heffernan, Adam Robitel, and Brantley Aufill. Like its predecessors, Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension uses found footage as a vehicle to follow the tribulations of a family haunted by an evil spirit inhabiting their house.
The film opens with the closing scene of Paranormal Activity 3 (2011) which takes place in 1988. This final scene is extended with additional footage of a very young Katie and Kristi as children being introduced to a cult leader explaining his mission to resurrect Toby, the demonic entity that plagued the families in the preceding films in the franchise.
Next, the film jumps to the year 2013 in a Santa Rosa house where we’re introduced to Ryan (Chris J. Murry), his wife Emily (Brit Shaw), and their six-year-old daughter Leila (Ivy George) as they prepare for Christmas. It’s at this time Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill) visits following a rough breakup with his girlfriend, also in the house is Skyler (Olivia Tylor Dudley), presumably a close friend of the family.
While unpacking Christmas decorations, Mike happens upon a box in the garage containing an odd (and very old) VHS video camera and a cache of VHS tapes. Ryan disclaims any knowledge of the camera and tapes, guessing that they were probably left by the prior owners. A curious Ryan, who has some knowledge of cinematography, researches the video camera on the Internet but is unable to find a model that comes close to the unique inner workings of the device. As such, he concludes that the video camera is custom made.
Adding to the mystique of the VHS video camera, Ryan observes strange visual and audio artifacts while filming. The video camera picks up strand-like suspended particles hovering in the air, distorted lighting, and eerily transformed audio. Ultimately, Ryan observes a correlation between the proximity of the strange particles and his daughter Leila – the particles seem to be following Leila.
Baffled as to what they’ve uncovered, Ryan and Mike start watching the old VHS tapes discovered with the camera. The tapes include droves of footage of young Katie and Kristie and the cult leader, Kent. In light of everything that’s transpired, Skyler, who is a feng shui expert and spiritual minded, believes the VHS video camera is a “spirit camera” designed to see other beings or dimensions.
As Ryan continues to film with the VHS video camera and watch the VHS tapes, the strange events start to escalate in frequency and intensity. It’s at this point that Ryan installs a series of surveillance cameras to better document what’s happening in his house. What starts as an idle curiosity turns into something much more sinister and dangerous for the new inhabitants of this house.
Found Footage Filming Reason
Similar to the preceding films in the Paranormal Activity franchise, the filming reason is perfectly sound. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension starts with the main protagonist, Ryan shooting a home videos of his family’s first Christmas season in their new home. After he happens upon the strange spirit camera,the filming reason transitions to one of curiosity over the visual oddities this new video camera captures. Later in the film, surveillance cameras are employed, as the seemingly benign activity now poses a physical threat to Ryan and his family.
The found footage cinematography is good, but appears almost too polished for a found footage film. Despite the flawlessness of the cinematography, from a technical perspective the film still maintains the illusion of pure found footage. Also of note are the special effects, which are exceptional for a found footage film. The CGI effectively facilitates the plot and provides several very good jump scares. The very concept of an invisible enemy that can only be seen with the aid of a special video camera is truly terrifying, and Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension effectively uses this fact to prey on the fears of viewers.
The acting in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is very good overall and well balanced as one would expect from a Hollywood budget. Chris J. Murry (as Ryan) and Brit Shaw (as Emily) are well cast as the young responsible couple settling into their new home. Dan Gill (as Uncle Mike) does a good job portraying the somewhat lost and emotionally immature brother to Ryan. Olivia Taylor Dudley (as Skyler) is admirable as the free spirit friend to Emily, and has good chemistry with Dan Gill (Mike). Brit Shaw (as Emily) is well cast as the six-year old daughter to Ryan and Emily, playing a myriad of different emotional states, ranging from loving daughter to demon-possessed child.
The plot of Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension breaks from the established formula of the first three films of the franchise. This latest edition to the franchise feels closer in tone and plot to Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist (1982). That said, this latest (and final) incarnation of the Paranormal Activity franchise is a solid film with a good story, great special effects, solid acting, and some great jump scares.
If there’s one major criticism to be had, and this holds true for every Paranormal Activity film in the franchise, when the protagonists start observing clearly malicious and potentially dangerous paranormal events unfolding, why don’t they just pick up and leave? Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension attempts to address this plot hole by introducing a priest who says that the demonic activity is not associated with the house, but rather a specific person and if the family leaves the house, the demon will follow. Even after hearing these words, a normal person would presumably leave (or more likely run from) the house regardless of what advice they are given. Also, what concerned parent would leave their daughter alone in a bedroom with escalating demonic activity that’s manifesting itself in the physical world? This is where suspension of disbelief comes into play as the franchise cannot exist without it.
Viewers expecting this film to stick to the formula of Paranormal Activity (2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), and Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), may be disappointed as Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension takes an approach that has a more narrative feel. As mentioned earlier, this latest addition to the franchise has a better fit with Poltergeist (1982) rather than the earlier Paranormal Activity films. Nonetheless, whether taken as the franchise finale or a standalone film, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost dimension is fun, interesting, and sometimes terrifying to watch.