Paranormal Activity delivers minimal thrills

It is hard to forget the original buzz generated back in 2009 by the wide release of the first installment of the Paranormal Activity series. It was released with advertisements that “guaranteed nightmares” and recommended that you “don’t see it alone.” The movie fared decently well among critics, and the series continued. However, ratings for the series have followed a negative trend and declined pretty steadily with each film.

The latest movie, film number six, was released on Oct. 23. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension promised similar thrills as its predecessors, even adding, “For the first time you will see the activity.” Personally, though admittedly unsatisfied with the last five Paranormal Activity movies, finding them predictable and full of holes, I was still willing to give this installment a chance.

The Ghost Dimension was directed by Gregory Plotkin, who had not been previously involved in the Paranormal Activity series. Hoping that this change would vary the directing style of the film (after all, this is the sixth movie in the series), I was disappointed to see that the film’s basic style, which consists mainly of shaky, night-vision, POV camera footage, remained unchanged.

The Ghost Dimension opens on a young family that has recently moved into their new home. Parents Ryan and Emily Fleege (played by Chris J. Murray and Brit Shaw, respectively) are decorating the living room for Christmas with their young daughter Leila (Ivy George). We are quickly introduced to Ryan’s brother Mike, and family friend Skylar (played by Dan Gill and Olivia Taylor Dudley, respectively) who are planning to stay with the family over the winter holidays. Although the opening of the film seemed quite cookie cutter, and the whole “young family moves into a new home in a new town” thing had a strong resemblance to the opening of several other Paranormal Activity films, I was happy to see the film seemed to be moving a little faster than others in the series.

Fast-forward a little, and Ryan and Mike are outside decorating when Mike finds an old box of VHS tapes and a video camera. Here we are met with another classic scary movie cliché — “It was probably left over from the previous owners.” Naturally, they watch all the tapes and mess around with the video camera. Those who have seen previous installments of the Paranormal Activity series would recognize both the content on the films and the films themselves. The films have been passed around between several families, and they include recurring footage of characters that appeared previously in the series. The two young girls in the videos seem to be interacting with a paranormal being named Toby, who becomes an integral a part of The Ghost Dimension.

The movie pace picks up a little as Leila starts acting strange. She tries to bury her mother’s rosary and burn a bible in the fireplace. It wasn’t a huge shock to find out that Leila’s explanation for the strange doings was that Toby told her to. Given the title of the movie, The Ghost Dimension, one might think that we are finally making progress in the series and coming a little closer to figuring out what exactly is possessing everyone in the series, who exactly Toby is, and where exactly this dimension is. We’ve been in suspense since the original Paranormal Activity. We’ve seen family after family be affected by the same demonic being, Toby. Perhaps the idea behind such a mystery is to keep viewers coming back for the next film, but a six-movie-long mystery seems a tad bit excessive.

For about forty minutes, the movie consists of Ryan walking around his house with the video camera filming some strange black mist, presumably Toby, which seems to interact with Leila. There was a lengthy period of not-so-paranormal activity that could probably be explained by a draft in the kitchen or an open window in Leila’s room. The same cliché scary movie scenes ensue: The camera gets knocked over, pots and pans from the kitchen fall over, a loud bang is heard in the living room and a startled wife yells “What was that?!” The only real thrills up to this point happened when the mist would fly passed the camera, and that was really only due to that fact that The Ghost Dimension was in 3D.

The movie is nearly over at this point, and no real action has transpired. Convinced that Toby is going to take Leila away, the family sets up the camera in Leila’s room and consults a priest in the hopes that they may rid their daughter of the evil spirits. The family is gathered together in the living room with the priest. In a very sudden turn of events, the movie goes, quite literally, from a crawling pace to a full on sprint in terms of paranormal activity. The lights in the house go out, and the movie switches to a very familiar night vision, POV footage, because for some reason Ryan still feels the need to use the video camera. The room is in chaos. Toby somehow morphs into human form. There is a great deal of screaming. The footage is so shaky that it is unclear what happens to Skylar, Ryan, Mike, or the priest. They are there one moment and gone the next. Are they dead? Maybe. It’s odd that the characters all died at once, but there was hardly even time to be scared or upset at the loss of over half of the cast, as the movie was in full throttle at this point.

Emily chases a very possessed Leila up to her room, where she enters into a portal to what the viewer assumes is the ghost dimension. Are we finally going to see who Toby is? Are we finally going to be exposed to this strange world where all these tapes of lost footage are coming from? For those, including myself, who assumed The Ghost Dimension would finally answer these questions unfortunately waited in vain. We are left with even more unanswered questions as the film closes with Leila walking out of frame with Toby, whom we only ever get to see from the knees down.

What happens to Leila? What becomes of her family? Who is Toby? Will the tapes get passed on again? All in all, the movie was predictable and full of cliché scenarios. A scare here and there, but nothing dramatic. In true Paranormal Activity fashion, the film closes with the obvious set up for an additional installment. Am I excited? Not really. Will I see it in the hopes that they will finally, after seven films, reveal what the hell is going on? Probably.