By: Addison Wylie
I remember describing Paranormal Activity 3 as an innovative horror film. I remember excitingly telling friends, family, and co-workers about its cunning use of a camera propped on an oscillating fan engine. The thought of this fearsome manoeuvre making everyone in my packed theatre squirm with anticipation was a memory for the books.
With this “final” chapter in the Paranormal Activity series, I sat in a theatre full of unimpressed fans, and watched a movie that had been squeezed of its imagination. It seems outside-the-box filmmaking was a tertiary priority in Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, a film only interested in tying up its loose ends with subpar gobbledygook backstory and slapping on a 3D presentation to cover up its creative shortcomings.
The 3D is actually suppose to help piece together the overarching story audiences have been following for years. Director Gregory Plotkin uses the technology to show how Toby – Paranormal Activity’s demonic force – materializes and allures young children. In the past, these ideas have been left up to us, which made for a scary device. In Plotkin’s film, the audience’s expectations are torn down when we see the film’s final representation of Toby. What’s supposed to look like shapeshifting gas appears as sludge-like webbing that seeps until its threatened, to which it lunges itself in a spastic manner towards our distressed characters and their special videocamera.
Can we talk about the 3D for a moment? The effects are mostly made up of enunciated tracking lines, tape glitches, and colour bleeding from the POV of a camera that can capture ghost photography. The popping became so erratic, however, that it was very close to giving me a headache – I can’t remember the last time modern 3D made me react that way. Also, a slight digression:The Ghost Dimension is more spastic than scary as it utilizes every jump scare in the book. Sure, I jumped, but you would jump too if someone suddenly screamed in your ear and put their hand in your face.
I would feel comfortable with saying that half of the movie is presented to us using poor 3D. The other half follows the typical rules of first-person/found footage horror. A neat throwback would’ve had the viewer being told by the movie when to don their plastic specs when the characters look through their special video camera; although this on-again-off-again interactivity may have egged on more mental aggravation. Instead, we wear our glasses for the entirety of The Ghost Dimension – no matter what format the film is in.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension sees 3D as a novelty act, whereas the technology needs more attention than that. Whether its shot using the proper cameras or converted in post-production, there’s a craft behind the technology that this production didn’t put too much thought into. For example, the movie doesn’t compensate for its lack of lighting. When the audience sees regular footage through their muted glasses, the images are far too dim. We’re always in a state of either squinting our eyes or straining them from the constant exposure of stormy blips and blinks.
With the tormenting 3D aside, there’s another problem at foot involving the series’ revolving door of filmmakers and screenwriters. Yet again, the main roles are outsourced to people who haven’t been involved with this series (Hollywood editor Plotkin in his directorial debut, and a slew of new screenwriters [some of whom wrote Project Almanac]). This choice to exchange filmmakers has been hit-or-miss in the past (Tod Williams’ forgettable Paranormal Activity 2, Catfish team Joost/Schulman creating one of the scariest movies of all time with Paranormal Activity 3), but this latest choice has undoubtably cratered the franchise.
Plotkin and his screenwriters are so far removed from Paranormal Activity’s expanding mythology, and they can’t comprehend the complicated, time-shifting narrative creators Oren Peli and Jason Blum have built. So, instead, the “new guys” make a safe movie with straight-to-video qualities that melts into every other generic horror movie made about evil in need of exorcising. An climactic exorcism even takes place in The Ghost Dimension! To give faithful movie goers a conclusion this plain is a slap in the face.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is overwritten, overacted, overdirected, and yet is treated as a throwaway sequel despite it being “the last chapter of the series”. The only actor walking away scot-free is young Ivy George who plays Leila, Toby’s latest victim. She is too eerily convincing as a kid with a haunted soul. Her real-life parents will be the ones who will need a nightlight.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie