Friday, January 08, 2016

Found Footage Friday: Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension (2015)

The Paranormal Activity franchise goes out with a whimper in Ghost Dimension (2015). It’s a film that strongly competes with Paranormal Activity 4 (2012) for the title of “worst of the bunch.”

As readers of this blog are aware, I’m a big fan of found footage movies, so obviously this result is a disappointment. I wanted nothing so much here as to see the franchise come back from the dead.

Admittedly, Ghost Dimension features a great conceit -- a customized camera that can “see” the supernatural -- but the gimmick has the unintended effect of draining all suspense from the film

Allow me to explain. In previous franchise entries, viewers would nervously pore over every inch of the camera frame for signs of invisible demons. The films featured long stretches of silence, as evidence of activity was sought. Viewer focus was galvanized, and intense. 

Here, by contrast there’s no need to pay such close attention, or any attention, really. The camera obligingly shows you the evil “Toby” front and center on numerous occasions.  He's a special effects powerhouse, a kind of dripping black ooze in the rough shape of a biped. But because we see him regularly, he's not frightening.

The franchise’s very reason to exist -- to capture strange, inexplicable footage of something not quite right or normal -- has been compromised in service of this new idea. Horror has moved from the periphery of our senses and vision to a placement much less subtle and intriguing.

And yet I can live with this flaw in the film, at least to a certain extent. 

The conceit of a supernatural camera is, at least, original and fresh. And after five movies, perhaps it was time to try something new and different. I credit the filmmakers for attempting something inventive. They had ambitions and the desire to attempt something unique. That they failed is not as important, perhaps, as the attempt to chart new territory.

But where Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension (2015) really goes south is in the concrete details of the narrative and the characters.  

Nobody in the movie behaves in anything approximating a reasonable fashion, especially given that the camera has recorded monstrous entities from a nether realm. So the movie’s real and terminal flaw is that it strains plausibility well past the breaking point.

I predict the series, having apparently finished off its (ultimately lame) story arc here, will be back at some point, however.  

Likely with a re-boot, because there’s just nowhere else to go in the original continuity. At least nowhere worthwhile.

“There are particles of dip shit in your aura.”

The Fleege family has moved into a home on the property where little girls Katie and Kristi once lived.  

When Ryan’s (Chris J. Murray) brother, Mike (Dan Gill) shows up to spend the holidays with the family, they discover a customized camera in a box of old decorations. The camera can apparently see supernatural entities. Ryan becomes obsessed with the device.

The camera's unique capability to see into the spirit world comes in handy when Ryan’s daughter, Leila (Ivy George) develops a disturbing rapport with an imaginary friend named Toby, really a demon looking to become corporeal and able to travel between dimensions and across various time periods.

Ryan and Mike also discover video tapes from the 1980s; ones revealing Katie and Kristi in the care of a witch’s coven or cult.  The two young girls apparently have the ability to see into the future, and into Ryan’s house.  They apparently need the blood of an innocent -- Leila -- to complete the ritual that will make Toby fully human.

Ryan and his wife, Emily (Brit Shaw) attempt to exorcise (or exterminate) the demon in their midst, but are unsuccessful.  

When Leila disappears through a rift over her bed, Emily must follow her daughter through…

“Your daughter may be being stalked by a demonic being.”

The biggest and most insurmountable problem with Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension is that none of the characters behave in any way that approximates sanity, or the behavior of real people.

For example, Ryan records on camera the presence of a huge, monstrous demon lingering in his young daughter’s bed room. 

The daughter is allowed to sleep in that very bedroom, the next night.  No sane parent would permit this. The child would be sleeping with her parents, in their bed. Probably until she was eighteen.

Worse, the girl -- who can also see the demon -- has no fear of it. This plot development plays as believable in some films when the demon is invisible. We can imagine it takes the form of a child, for instance, to trick its young prey. But there is no seven year old kid in the universe who would feel comfortable befriending this particular denizen of Hell.

Similarly, a series of witch’s runes are found surrounding the bed and wall nearby it, in Leila’s room, and the parents' research proves such runes are used for opening portals in time and space. 

So what do Mom and Dad do? The parents leave the runes up, of course! They don’t cover them up with paint, or scribble them out. And still the girl -- sleeping under a portal to hell, apparently -- is allowed to sleep in her bedroom.

Also, when the daughter is alone, with just the camera, a ghost hand reaches out towards her from a mirror in the bathroom, and cracks the glass.  

The parents never notice this, or comment, even, on the broken mirror. Again, it seems like an important clue that the paranormal activity is real, one that could be used as evidence of the supernatural.

Then there’s the appearance of a demonic being dressed like Santa Claus, and who is never explained.  What's that all about?

And then, next, there's the off-screen visit to the police, with tapes in hand, but no follow-up report.  

Did the police believe the parents? Not believe them? How did the police dismiss the footage? Why did they not even send an officer to the house to check on the story? 

Or a social services employee to remove Leila from her psycho parents' care?

And then finally, there's the climactic scene (lensed in night vision) in which one character spontaneously spits up some sort of acidic substance, and melts the face of another main character. This development comes out of left field.

Over and over, Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimensions makes these huge jumps from plot point to plot point with no mind or attention to how the previous plot point might reasonably impact the characters. 

Again and again, the characters behave recklessly, even stupidly, especially considering that a child is involved.

In short, the movie is a disaster in terms of the reality it attempts to forge. The characters' implausible behavior recurs so often that every four or five minutes, the audience is reminded of it, and jarred out of the narrative.

Even the conclusion, which explains all “the activity” of the previous films is a huge bust. 

Leila and her Mom travel through time to 1992 and there are involved in the ritual to manifest Toby as a human being.  Forget for a moment that we never see Toby in the film's finale as anything other than two legs and feet, this conclusion raises a more important question.  

If Toby was raised in 1992 to bring about Hell on Earth, what’s taking him so long to make it happen?  He would have been walking around as a human for 21 years by the time the Fleege family is involved.  What's he waiting for? 

Certainly, I appreciate the attempts to bring together the plot-lines and elements of all previous Paranormal Activity films, but I don’t believe the final results pay off very well.  

Lastly, this is the first film in the franchise proper not to feature an appearance from Katie Featherston. Thus far, she has been (the appealing) glue that holds everything together. It doesn’t seem right to cap the whole thing off without explaining, precisely, where she is now, and what she is doing.  I'd like to know more about how she fits in.

Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension features the same flaw as many earlier entries in the series, namely that nobody seems to be reviewing the tapes in a timely fashion.  If they did so, they’d be scared as hell and get out of the house. But worse than that, this sequel invents new flaws.

Its aura -- to put it politely -- is dip shit. 

And again, this thought comes from a huge admirer of found footage films.

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