Monday, November 16, 2015

"Paranormal Activity - The Ghost Dimension" Review: This Once Mighty Horror Franchise Has Seen Better Days


Does anyone out there still care about Paranormal Activity? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller? Well whether anybody cares or not, guess what? There is a new Paranormal Activity movie out right now! I can sense the excitement sweeping over you at this very moment as visions of stationary cameras and objects moving on their own dance through your head. What was once a mighty horror movie empire has been recycled and regurgitated to the point where fans have all but abandoned it in search of the new flavor of the moment. If you are or ever have been a fan or are just curious as to what this final(?) installment into the long running film series has to offer I have the answers you are looking for. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital             
Film Rating: R
Film Runtime:  1 hr 24 min
Studio: Paramount Pictures 
Release Date: October 23rd, 2015

Biases:  
Loves: Being scared
Likes: Paranormal Activity 1, 3 and The Marked Ones
Neutral:  Paranormal Activity 2
Hates: Paranormal Activity 4
What will be the next reigning horror movie franchise?: For the first time in over a decade, who knows?


At this point the entire timeline between all the Paranormal Activity films is so convoluted and over complicated that it doesn't even matter anymore who this person is, where or when any of this is supposed to take place and whether it is all connected. If you are one of those people who needs to have everything line up and make sense then rest assured that everything more or less makes sense if you want to put that extra effort into figuring it out, but for the sake of this review and my own sanity I am going to refrain from going over every single detail of the last few films other than what directly ties into this entry. So for those of you who want to deal with that mess go ahead and steer yourself towards the wiki cause you aren't getting any of that nonsense here today.

For the uninitiated, just about every Paranormal Activity basically starts out and ultimately ends the same way. There are little differences here and there but for the most part it begins with a scene related to or directly lifted from one of the previous films and then the audience is introduced to a brand new family comprised of a mom, husband/boyfriend, a child (boy or girl) around 4 or 5 years old usually and a family friend/relative who all reside inside a large home with white walls, high ceilings and an open floor plan with numerous rooms all far apart from one another. It doesn't take long before strange things begin to happen and soon enough the family discovers they are being stalked by some sort of demonic entity that wants their kid for some sort of sinister plot involving a bunch of old ladies who pass themselves off as a coven of witches. Queue the placement of numerous cameras all over the house which mostly stare at nothing until something happens for a quick second that makes us jump, rinse and repeat.


By the time the third film in the franchise hit (which coincidentally was also the best of the bunch as far as scares are concerned) the formula was already seeming a bit dated and a little tired. To their credit though the filmmakers never seemed to rest on their laurels and always found neat little gimmicks to spruce up the festivities which admittedly did little to fend off any criticisms about each entry's sameness but was still appreciated. When the fourth film hit though it was more of a resounding thud than the explosive success of all its predecessors where no gimmick was clever enough to rope audiences back in for what was largely the exact same experience they have had the past 3 years in a row but with less scares and very very stupid characters.

The series had some new life breathed back into when the spin-off entitled The Marked Ones was released but that was too little too late as despite it being one of the stronger films in the franchise it disappeared with nary a trace. Now we arrive at the sixth and potentially final film which has dropped the number count and went with the more safe option using the subtitle The Ghost Dimension which sounds cool but really has nothing to do with anything that happens in the film. However, fans of the Paranormal Activity films would be doing themselves a disservice to write this latest entry off all together as this a solid effort all things considered.


The gimmick this time around is probably one of the best/worst ideas the filmmakers have had yet. It simultaneously creates an interesting and new way for the audience to experience the activity (hence the tagline, "For the first time you will see the activity") but also hampers any chance of producing scares. This isn't in reference to the film being in 3D this time (a first for the franchise) but more so to do with the advent of what is commonly referred to in the ghost hunting world as a Full Spectrum Camera which essentially just means it can see ghosts. The way the camera is introduced to our characters and the logistics behind its existence are questionable for sure but what is even more suspect is the impact this device has on the movie itself.

The age old argument over what is scarier, what we see or what we don't is put to the test here as this new gimmick all but eradicates any way for the audience to ever be left wondering what has or is happening at any given moment. Example, usually when a camera is left in a room to film any strange behavior we sit there looking at said room for a set amount of time until either a door slowly opens, a light flickers or a picture frame tilts, not all that exciting on paper as it might seem but that has been the hallmark of the franchise up to this point and it was fun trying to spot the ghost and what it was doing regardless. That never happens in The Ghost Dimension as instead of relying on our own imagination when it comes to determining what is after this family we are actually shown what it is and the result isn't all that exciting or scary as all we see are some rather uninspired special effects.


Yes, for the first time ever we get to see Toby, the malicious entity that has been stalking our hapless families ever since the very first film. Some might say it is about time and others will say it was better left a mystery but one thing is for sure, seeing Toby in this particular film is akin to watching paint dry. Remember all those scenes of someone standing in a room for hours on end just staring at people? Well guess what we get to see Toby do? Yup, you better believe it. Somehow seeing a demonic presence just stand over someone for multiple hours and only move a few feet by the end just doesn't produce the same reaction that sitting there and waiting for something to happen does and this adverse effect is felt throughout the entire film.

There are some good points though that are worth mentioning. For the first time ever (a lot of firsts in this film) we get to see the family fight back and despite its expected grim conclusion it was still fun to see them try. These films have been struggling to find a way to re-energize their fans with the last installment even going so far as having Los Angeles gang bangers gunning down the creepy old ladies (which is still a series high point just for its absurd awesomeness) but it wasn't until here that we got to see what happens when someone goes on the offensive spiritually. That leads into the finale which succeeds at ending both this film and the entire franchise in a good place, if not a bit underwhelming all things considered. At least if this is the last one fans won't be left wondering what happened as it is clearly establishes that this story is over for the most part (but in doing so causes a plethora of plotholes that all but negate what happened in each of the other films).


Suffice it to say that if you have been keeping up with each new entry into the Paranormal Activity series that there is no need to stop here. It may share many of the same problems as its predecessors and even manages to create a couple new ones but it still does exactly what fans have come to expect from it for better or worse. The effect may have diminished over time and the scares may be in short supply but its hard to knock a film for doing exactly what it sets out to do and The Ghost Dimension is exactly what we have come to expect from the franchise, warts and all.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

Much like the Saw franchise before it, Paranormal Activity has had a great run even despite a road bump here and there. Many may forget the humble beginnings that jump started all the excitement for the first film since it grew into such a phenomenon almost over night but considering where these films began and where they ended up it is nothing short of inspiring to know that even today minimalist horror still reigns supreme.

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