paranormalA fair warning to readers: While I will not ruin anything by spoiling the surprises of THE GHOST DIMENSION, in order to properly write about it, the events of the previous five movies will be discussed, so if you haven’t seen the others, I recommend you stop here as this is a full on piece on the PARANORMAL experience.

When the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY came out in 2009, it had probably one of the best marketing strategies out there. With its vague title and poster art, the film requested audiences demand the film be screened in their area in order for them to watch it. No plot details were divulged, but it promised a terrifying experience in time for Halloween. I had to drive an hour away to the only theater showing it in the Chicago suburbs at the time and was glad I had preordered my tickets. There was a line heading out the door and was one of the only times I ever got to experience something like this. Everyone in line was discussing their Halloween plans and any interesting haunted house attractions in the area. The theater was packed and we had end seats towards the back and the film began. A slow burn of a movie, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY had a restless audience until shit got real and every ghostly nightmare you had when home alone was there on screen. Hearing the audience gasp and finally scream when Micah’s body gets thrown at the giant screen is something I will never forget and, as a horror fan, something I’m so happy to experience. And that is exactly what this was, an experience. The film was treated like an event that no one knew what it was about and felt intimate as we watched Katie and Micah deal with a demonic presence they can’t get rid of. The clever twist here is that they can’t just leave the house. This demon has latched itself onto Katie since she was a little girl and there is a seemingly passive mention of her house burning down when she was a kid.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 followed with some broad advertising, but audiences quickly learned while watching that this was going to explore Katie’s sister, Kristi, and the experiences in her family’s home. This story takes place before, during, and after the first PARANORMAL film as Kristi gives birth to who we learn is the first born son in the family since the 1930s. Kristi’s stepdaughter, Ali, researches the mysterious happenings and learns of witchcraft bargaining, involving promises of wealth or power from demons as long they are granted the soul of a first born son. This son happens to be Hunter, Kristi’s baby, and as Kristi begins to have symptoms of possession, the family learns the only way to rid of the demon is transfer it to a blood relative. Kristi’s husband performs a ritual that sends the demon to Katie, leading to the events of the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. Unfortunately, Katie ends up getting possessed by the pissed off demon, kills Micah and heads to Kristi’s, killing her and her husband, walking out of the house with Hunter to an unknown location.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3 takes the mythology even back further, a prequel set 18 years before the first two films. Remember when Katie and Kristi were talking about the weird stuff that happened when they were little? We finally get to see that here. Initially, the film opens in 2005 during the events of PARANORMAL 2 when Kristi’s house is ransacked (which led to her family placing security cameras for us to enjoy) she finds that the VHS tapes Katie dropped off at her house are the only things missing. Keep those tapes in mind as we venture into 1988 as young Katie and Kristi are living with their mother, Julie, and her boyfriend. Dennis, the Julie’s boyfriend, is a videographer who stumbles onto footage of a mysterious figure in his bedroom after reviewing a failed attempt at making a sex tape. This encourages him to start filming around the house in search of any other strange happenings. He discovers Kristi waking up in the middle of the night, talking to her “imaginary” friend, Toby. Through protests from the girls and one final event that scares the shit out of the skeptical Julie, the family pays to a visit to Grandma Lois and her ever so welcoming farm house. It’s at this farm house where Dennis finds occult imagery throughout and encounters several witches, whose presumed goal is to brainwash young girls into bearing baby boys and give them up to demons. He meets his demise at the hands of the invisible Toby and Kristi and Katie are lead up the stairs by their grandmother who advises the girls to “get ready.”

What some may consider the weakest of the franchise, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, is not weak as the result of being a terrible film because it is not. It just doesn’t add much to the mythology, but rather creates more numbing questions and feels more like a spin off film than THE MARKED ONES did. It’s 2011 now, finally providing an sequel to the previous events, and teenager Alex lives in Nevada (the previous events were all in California) when their neighbor, Katie (yes, THAT Katie!) moves across the street with her son Robbie, a socks and sandals wearing kid with a tendency to show up in Alex’s backyard in the middle of the night. When Katie mysteriously falls ill, Alex’s family takes in Robbie temporarily and he becomes best buds with Alex’s younger brother, Wyatt. Soon, the familiar supernatural occurrences begin and Alex connects this to Robbie and the markings she finds on Wyatt’s body. It turns out Wyatt is actually Hunter, adopted by Alex’s family and Katie has come to claim him back as her demonic offering. Through her findings, Alex discovers that a virgin sacrifice is also necessary for the ritual, which leads to the ambiguous ending where Alex stumbles onto a huge coven of witches at Katie’s house while trying to rescue Wyatt/Hunter.

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES was marketed a spin off, leaning towards the Hispanic market as apparently we make up a large demographic that pays to watch to these movies. I had no problem with that, but feared an emphasis on negative stereotypes and racist humor that most projects depend on. Fortunately, this spin off hits the mark and provides as many scares as it does laughs. There’s no denying this is the most fun of the franchise as the characters take a different approach to the supernatural, in a way that feels more relatable than most films dare to venture into. It’s 2012 in Oxnard, California (I could have sworn this was originally to be titled THE OXNARD TAPES) and Jesse is enjoying his summer after high school with his best friend Hector. Jesse lives in an apartment just above Ana, a mysterious woman everyone believes to be a witch. After Ana is murdered by valedictorian, Oscar, the boys sneak into Ana’s apartment and discover occult artifacts and a bunch of VHS tapes, including the ones missing from Kristi’s basement from PARANORMAL 2. They also find a book of spells that promises to open spiritual doorway and time travel into unholy places. The pieces are put together that Ana is part of The Midwives, the same coven that Grandma Lois is in, and these witches are putting together an army of possessed males and Jesse is their next recruit. THE MARKED ONES has probably one of the most creative endings, as Hector is being chased by a possessed Jesse and some pissed off witches, running into one of the portals, sending him into Katie and Micah’s house during the events of the first PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, finally explaining what exactly Katie was screaming at before stabbing Micah to death.

With all that being said, there is so much story going on here and sometimes not everything gets answered. For example, why did Hunter get sent off to get adopted instead of just being held onto until he hit the right age for the ritual? Who exactly is Robbie and what is his bigger role here? Is Toby the demon we are all so afraid of or is he the lost soul of a potential recruit in the witch’s army? What exactly is this army for? Why was Kristi’s and Katie’s house burnt down when they were kids? I might have missed the answers at some point and there’s probably many other questions to be asked, but the real question is, does THE GHOST DIMENSION fulfill the closure us PARANORMAL ACTIVITY fans need? In one word: NO.

We are introduced to a new family consisting of Ryan, Emily and their daughter, Leila. Ryan discovers a box full of tapes and a huge camera that doesn’t belong to them. Ryan’s brother, Mike, crashes at their place after a bad breakup. With Ryan, Mike watches the discovered tapes that feature footage from PARANORMAL 3 along with some new footage that fills in some gaps, but doesn’t really answer any questions. Most of the revelations in this footage were already revealed in the trailer and TV spots so it’s not really a surprise when the girls on the tapes seem to watching the two men watching them. When Ryan turns on the old camera, it’s through these lens he is able to see what first comes off as a strange glitch, but turns out to be something entirely else. Actually, aside from Toby, it’s never explained as to what the weird CGI effect we keep seeing is. Speaking of, Toby is back and he has latched himself onto Leila as she slowly displays the same symptoms of possession we’ve witnessed in other films.

PARANORMAL 3 had the fan cam and PARANORMAL 4 had the X-Box Kinect. THE GHOST DIMENSION has 3D and it’s utilized only when the old camera is our point of view. It works in certain scenes, even if it initially comes off as nauseating. Found footage 3D is something new for me and it probably is not going to work for a lot of people. The jump scares work with CGI being thrown at the audience, but you’re over it before the credits roll. When Ryan discovers that Toby is focusing on his daughter, he sets up cameras, but for some reason later in the film decides to set the ghost camera in the hallway nowhere near his daughter so he can’t even see what’s going on inside her bedroom. When he does have the camera in her room, Toby just stands there and watches.

Let’s talk about Toby. In PARANORMAL 3, Toby is described as an old man “like Grandma” and in PARANORMAL 4, we can see the outline of what looks like a boy in their living room. For some reason, in THE GHOST DIMENSION he looks like Groot. He is a CGI effect that doesn’t create any chills but rather just a shrug from the audience.  Mike initially begins in the film as our possible protagonist, but then serves no purpose other than to deliver one liners for comedic relief in intense moments. Fortunately, there are some really cool sequences in the films, but everything just falls flat in the third act which usually serves as some of the most memorable moments in all the films in this franchise.

I kept waiting for the answers we were promised in press materials and maybe some special cameos from the past, but was left empty handed. Instead, we are treated to another motive for the coven that really just seems added on in order to create this limp sequel. I really love this franchise and am sad to see it end on such a low note with no results.

  1. Marcia says:

    I love the franchise too, and I think The Marked Ones is my favorite. I pretty much agree with all of your comments and insights about all the films, except Ghow Dimension, which I have not yet seen. I’m disappointed to read your review, and wonder, have the film makers stated anywhere that this will be their last? I hope not, because #1, I’d like to see them go on forever, and #2, I’ll like more answers too.

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