PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION. Chris J. Murray, Brit Shaw, Dan Gill, Olivia Taylor Dudley, Ivy George. Directed by Gregory Plotkin. 88 minutes.Rated M (Supernatural themes, violence and coarse language).
This is the sixth (and hopefully final) film in the low-budget-but-high-box-office-return horror franchise that reinvigorated the found footage craze first popularised by ‘The Blair Witch Project’ 16 years ago. The use of 3D adds an interesting visual element, and the story reportedly answers many questions left unanswered in previous instalments, but it’s largely a hateful film that thinks terror and violence are a substitute for audience interest.
The film is told through a series of home video tapes shot in December 2013 by the Fleege family – father Ryan (Chris J. Murray), mother Emily (Brit Shaw), young daughter Leila (Ivy George), and Ryan’s brother Mike (Dan Gill). Emily’s friend Skyler (Olivia Taylor Dudley) is also staying with the family in their enormous home which they reportedly snapped up for an unbelievable price. It just goes to show that in real estate, some things are too good to be true.
Putting up Christmas lights, Ryan and Mike find a box of video tapes in the attic, along with a large camera unlike anything they have seen before. The tapes follow a family with two young daughters in 1988, and the still-working camera appears to pick up unseen interference in the air. Apparently Ryan hasn’t seen any horror films himself, so decides to watch all the tapes and muck about with the camera – he basically seals his and his family’s fates then and there. The camera was custom built for spirit photography, and reveals invisible wisps of a dark matter floating about the home.
Strange things start going bump in the night, and Leila begins acting strangely and speaking to her imaginary friend ‘Toby’ – Ryan and Mike opt to set up cameras around the house to capture the inexplicable occurrences. This has been the basic premise of the franchise: frightened people set up stationary handycams around their homes to watch their sleeping selves being haunted. This approach works, with plentiful tension created by the ominous, immobile frames of a sleeping Leila. However, the scares are ‘jump scares’, relying on a loud noise or something popping unexpectedly into the frame. For this reviewer at least, this is lazy filmmaking from first-time director Gregory Plotkin, cheating the viewer out any genuine atmosphere.
Naturally, what with it being a Christmas setting and a film about an unknown presence, plenty of religious iconography and explanation are dragged into the messy screenplay. Sleepwalking Leila tries to burn the Bible, the family rosaries are found buried in the yard, and the angel falls off the Christmas tree. A priest is pulled in to help, and he reliably informs them that these are characteristic signs of a demon trying to assume human form. Throw in some mumbo-jumbo about a coven of witches trying to create the demon’s body using blood sacrifices from time travelling children, and the final race to the film’s end couldn’t move fast enough.
There are some features which work for film. The cast aren’t exceptional, though they all act appropriately terrified and try their best to turn their early levity into characterisation. The inclusion of 3D into the mix (the cinema attended by this reviewer only screens the film with the extra dimension) is an interesting idea with a smoothly moving camera, though it fails whenever shaky, handheld work takes over.
Frankly, it’s a stress-inducing 88 minutes – it is scary, don’t mince my words, but that it no way makes it a good horror film. After being thoroughly terrified, it took some effort to rationalise why I don’t consider it a good film, and it came down to an utter lack of humanity. My lack of recommendation will not discourage anyone already set upon seeing the film, but to anyone on the fence, please consider staying home instead.
Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out October 22.