Before every long-running horror franchise finally ends, they always return one last time to claim a final victim: their most loyal audience. It’s pretty clear Paranormal Activity is out of gas, but here’s Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension anyway, ready to bleed a couple more bucks out of the few surviving souls who are still invested in its convoluted mythology, and complete the series’ transformation from elegant simplicity to desperate gimmickry, with the addition of 3D jump scares.

So how does 3D work in a found-footage movie? Uncomfortably. The filmmakers — director Gregory Plotkin and five different credited screenwriters — explain it through the introduction of a special VHS camcorder, which can see paranormal activity that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye. This camera falls into the hands of a happy family — dad Ryan (Chris J. Murray), mom Emily (Brit Shaw), daughter Leila (Ivy George) — who live in a gorgeous house in Santa Rosa, California. Ryan finds the camcorder buried amongst a box of Christmas decorations, and quickly discovers its unique properties. Through its viewfinder, he records ethereal energy fields, sudden gusts of wind, and geysers of black liquid spewing from the floor and ceiling of Leila’s room.

There’s no mistaking these images for anything else. This is a ghost f---ing dimension. Ryan now has something that mankind has sought for centuries; indisputable, iron-clad proof of the afterlife. Imagine what someone could do with this footage. Imagine what you would do with this footage.

Ryan does nothing.

Instead, he just keeps filming. When the ghosts begin to take a keen interest in Leila, he just keeps filming. And when his daughter starts acting funny, he just keeps filming. And when the young girls on the VHS tapes he discovered along with the camcorder start referencing things in his house they couldn’t possibly know, he just keeps filming. And when his daughter writes strange Satanic symbols on her bedroom wall, he just keeps filming — and even leaves her alone at night so that when the symbols turn into an interdimensional portal to the ghost f---ing dimension, she can enter it without any hassle. Ryan (and Emily, for that matter) won’t be winning any Parent of the Year Awards anytime soon.

Think of the first Paranormal Activity. That movie was about the desperate quest for any shred of proof of the supernatural. A couple set up a camera to record themselves while they sleep; their videos contain some spooky occurrences, but the only truly paranormal images appear after it’s too late for them to do anything about it. Within the first 20 minutes of The Ghost Dimension, Ryan has enough documentation of ghouls and demons and ghost f---ing dimensions to alter life on earth forever. So naturally he acts vaguely concerned but mostly keeps it to himself, as his life goes to hell and his daughter becomes a puppet of some unholy evil.

Ryan only has one special camera that can see the ghosts; cutting back and forth from it to other angles where the paranormal remains invisible creates a bit of extra tension, but that idea isn’t exploited to its fullest. In general, The Ghost Dimension isn’t so much scary as it is aggressive, constantly assaulting viewers with sudden monsters and loud noises rather than building an atmosphere of genuine dread and terror. And with characters this jaw-droppingly stupid, it’s difficult to care much when their house turns into a nightmare.

Sure, the film occasionally raises your pulse, but so will anything that leaps out at you from the dark (especially in 3D). That’s an autonomic response. Praising The Ghost Dimension for supplying a few empty jolts would be like giving a doctor the Nobel Prize for Medicine for hitting your knee with a hammer and getting it to jerk forward. To this Paranormal Activity’s credit, it uses 3D extensively; audience members who pay the surcharge will get their money’s worth in that regard. They just might feel they got shortchanged in the screenplay department. Producers claim this will be the final Paranormal Activity. Let’s hope so. It’s time for everyone involved to put the cameras down for a while.

Additional Notes:

-There’s another female character that hangs around this doomed family — a blond woman named Skyler (played by Olivia Taylor Dudley)— and if there was a gun to my head, I could not tell you who she is or why she doesn’t get the hell out of this place when the demons start moving in. Is she Leila’s nanny? A family friend? If the movie explains it, I missed it and so did everyone else I talked to (including one colleague who admitted he was about to ask his wife the same question when I put it to him).

-The heavy use of 3D makes it particularly surprising that Paramount decided to use The Ghost Dimension to test a new, shorter VOD window for its releases. The whole movie is 3D crap flying at the camera. At home without 3D, this movie is going to look even dumber than it already does.

-You know a movie like this isn’t working when the recruited audience (that’s seeing the movie for free!) starts heckling the screen. Sample snarky comments from my crowd: “Are you serious?” “Go get your mother!” and (my personal favorite) “B---- went to Narnia!”

Paranormal Activity Ghost Dimension rating

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