[SPOILER ALERT!] Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension [SPOILER ALERT!]
It’s the first day of the 2016 Horror Movie Marathon!
Mike and I are sitting in our normal spots in the living room as dusk falls outside. It’s the first night of his annual marathon of horror movies to celebrate October and the coming of Halloween. He’s already queued up the movie before I sit down. I can see on the paused screen that we are watching Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015). A quick IMDB check informs me that this is the sixth in the Paranormal Activity series, which has been an October movie marathon staple throughout the years.
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is rated R and is available on Hulu. At the time of our viewing, it has the following online ratings:
IMDB rating 4.5/10
Rotten Tomatoes 13% critics, 28% audience
I am my usual snarky self throughout, making rude comments to the characters and sharing my thoughts with them freely. Mikey watches largely without commentary.
We both take notes throughout the movie and send our chosen questions to one another via Google Docs afterward. Below, you can find his responses to my questions. He’s posting my responses to his questions here, on his website.
Solee: So, as this is the first interview of this Best Halloween Ever season, can you give us a little background? How did BHE start? How has it evolved over the years?
Mikey: Well, BHE and my horror movie reviewing are not one and the same. BHE originated as a celebration on Hamumu.com, a series of contests, discounts, and games on the site for the players to enjoy. I loved the costume contests – seeing kids dress up as my characters was the best.
It looks like my movie reviews started in 2011, to coincide with a BHE, but I’m not so sure it was the first BHE. Each year, I’ve done things a little different with the reviews: in 2011, it was a sort of a ‘form review’ (I filled in answers for “Rating”, “Artistic Stuff”, “What Was Good”, “What Was Bad”, etc). 2012, I did video reviews of which I am both horrendously embarrassed and oddly proud. They were a ton of fun but took way too much time to create. In 2013, it was back to the ‘form letter’ review. In 2014, I wrote up a short review in plain text and followed it with a drawing I made inspired by the movie (usually drawn during the movie). The drawings were done in pen with no pre-planning (and I never cheated and started over!), so it was all a little scary to put my unfixable work out there. And finally, in 2015 I did written reviews again, but I added a new feature: almost every time I watch a movie, at some point during it, I have a sudden idea for a movie or story of my own (obviously related in some way to what I’m seeing, but often it’s very tangential), so I wrote down my own movie idea with each movie that year.
Incidentally, you can see all those previous years via this link: http://hamumu.com/journal.php?archive=movie
So I am looking forward to trying the interview format this year. I love mixing it up each year!
Solee: I guess instead of Best Halloween Ever, we should be calling this the 2016 Horror Movie Marathon. I know you’ve seen all the other Paranormal movies. You’ve even convinced me to watch some of them. Can you set us up a little? What’s the deal with this series?
Mikey: I’d say Paranormal Activity is the big success of the found-footage world. It’s an incredibly simple formula: set up cameras around the house and viewers watch completely boring static shots of a room for several minutes at a time until BAM there’s a sudden movement. Then the next scene. That’s it, that’s the whole system. It’s less a movie and more of a roller coaster – you’re just playing the game of “where will the ghost be in this shot?” for the entire movie. It’s fun and I always enjoy it, but it is pretty lame as far as movies go.
There’s also a fairly complex mythology behind the series. All the movies tie together in a pretty complicated way, centering around this one family (mainly the two sisters) who is sort of the target of a coven of witches. That’s also a little interesting, but that plot stuff mainly occupies about 5 minutes of each movie, the rest is sitting and watching empty rooms. There are really no other movies like this (except probably hundreds of even-lower-budget knock-offs), it’s a pretty unique idea.
Solee: It’s the simplicity and anxiety involved in staring at mostly empty rooms that has pulled me in each year. The whole Paranormal series falls squarely into the “found footage” genre. Is it fair to say you are drawn to this style of horror film? What is it about this style that attracts you?
Mikey: I love found footage movies and I don’t think I know why. They’re almost inherently bad, it’s sort of a challenge to the filmmaker to try to make something good from them (which is very rarely successful). But I do like bad movies, so that works out. Still, I definitely get excited and click Play faster when I see that a movie is going to be found footage, and I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. I think it’s something about going in knowing some of the rules, and wanting to see how those rules are played with this time. Creativity within constraints is what is interesting.
Solee: There seem to be an awful lot of found footage films out there. It’s almost as though everyone were recording their every moment just in case. Do you think we should be filming more of our everyday lives? What do you think would happen if we did?
Mikey: No! I hate being on camera! I don’t think anything interesting would come of us filming more… we’d just have a lot of footage we’d never look at. And a serious data storage problem.
Solee: True. My phone storage is mostly full already as is. Early on in the film, we meet Mike, the husband’s annoying brother, who has come to visit for Christmas. What year did Mike’s moustache travel from?
Solee: Thanks for clearing that up for me. Shortly after the magic camera is discovered, the wife’s sister talks about the “different plane of existence” in an exposition-filled scene. How does this match up with this lore of the previous Paranormal Activity movies?
Mikey: This movie pretty much retconned the whole series, as best I understand it. Prior to this movie (and the one before it, which was a side-story with little connection to anything), the series was pretty specific: these two sisters had grown up and a coven of witches had used them in some way to help them summon a demon. There’s also a boy (Hunter, who is mentioned in this movie a bit), who is somehow being used with the demon as well. This movie’s story about Hunter being snatched through time is contradictory to things that we’ve seen (I think…), and the entire time-travel element is completely new to this movie. There was a very big coven of witches previously, maybe a hundred or more witches all gathered at one house to work on this project, and now it’s some guy and a couple women training the girls? Big changes, not something I comprehended.
Solee: Having not paid all that much attention to the story lines of the first five, I was pretty lost throughout. I did agree with you when, at the 33:57 mark you said, and I quote, “When are they gonna kill this moustache guy?” Can you elaborate on your feelings about Moustache Mike?
Mikey: Moustache Mike was horrendously awful. I know he was the dad’s brother, but if he were my brother I still wouldn’t have let him stay at my house after the first day or two of his relentlessly crappy behavior.
Solee: At the half-way point in the movie, I paused it and asked you to answer the following questions: Do you feel like you understand what’s happening at this point? Do you feel like you know where the movie is going? If so, how confident are you in your predictions?
What were your thoughts at that point?
Mikey’s Notes: I definitely understand what’s happened, nothing is really complex here. Based on previous movies, I have a strong idea of where it will go, but because some previous movies have delved deeply into the witch stuff, while others have gone more into the possession stuff, I’m not confident of which way they will swing.
My prediction is that the little girl will get to leave in the end, but take the evil with her, and probably burn down the house. All the adults will die. They will never explain the time-traveling videos.
Solee: Excellent. We’ll revisit those predictions at the end. For now, one of my favorite things about the Paranormal Activity movies is the classic “pan across the perfectly normal kitchen into the perfectly normal living room and back into the kitchen where BAM something scary has happened” scene. Do you prefer when the ghost open all the drawers and cupboards or do you like it better when the put all the furniture on the ceiling?
Mikey: Hmm, I suppose I like the furniture better because it’s more exotic – cupboards can open in real life. But one of the scenes from these movies that always has stuck with me was in fact one where the cupboards all slammed open (it was in one of the sequels, and it happened during daytime, that’s all I remember, though I can picture the shot clearly!). It made me jump big time.
Solee: Speaking of flying furniture, how would you rate the special effects in this movie?
Mikey: The ghost stuff looked pretty good… it was not scary, but as far as special effects go, it was convincing. Except when they threw the sheet over it and it became a Charlie Brown ghost. Not because sheet-ghosts are silly, which they are, but because the CGI for it made it look like it was made of marshmallow.
Solee: Mmmm… marshmallow ghosts! Let’s try to dig deep for a minute. The movie takes place during the Christmas season. What symbolism do you think they were going for? Do you think it worked?
Mikey: Well… I dunno. I guess maybe it was kind of a homey family time element – it’s supposed to be all love and peace and joy, and this darkness has come in to tear it apart? I’m not sure actually. Which I guess means it didn’t work on me!
Solee: I notice they didn’t unplug the Christmas tree lights once throughout the whole movie. Can I leave our tree on all Christmas season this year? 😉
Solee: You’re no fun at all. Aside from their wasteful electrical habits, what did you think of the main characters and their reactions to the events unfolding in their household?
Mikey: As is typical in these movies, I don’t think they were concerned enough. When you have plain video evidence (with scary faces!) of ghostly entities rampaging through your house, I don’t care if the priest tells you that leaving won’t help. You’d still leave. I mean, why not? If the demon does follow you, okay, but even if you knew he would, you’d still have that innate desire to just get out. Most of all, it drove me nuts that night after night they just put their girl back to sleep in the same extremely haunted bedroom, alone, no matter how much they had seen. It defied all reason.
Solee: It’s time for the POST-GAME ANALYSIS! This is a series of questions I intend to ask after each movie.
First, what was the final body count?
Mikey: Five, plus one in flashback which doesn’t count since it was the finale of an earlier movie.
Solee: So it wasn’t the deadliest movie we’ve ever seen, but that ghost dimension proved dangerous. Were you scared at any point in the movie? If so, what kind of scared? (Edge of your seat? Jump scare? Can’t blink, can’t breathe? Underlying dread? Something else?)
Mikey: The movie contained a lot of jump scares, but not very scary ones. I don’t think I jumped at all, which is a really sad commentary when you consider that this really is probably the “scariest” movie series out there (in terms of making you jump). As we discussed the other day in person, it seems like the new trick in this movie – the camera that detects ghostly stuff – takes away any of the jumps. Since you can see the idea of where the ghost is, it’s not really a jump scare anymore, you’ve got advance warning.
I will say that when the brothers were hiding in the kitchen and the shadow guy was stalking towards them, that… should have been scary. It looked scary when he’d peek out and see it coming closer. But the way they played it out was awful and ended up draining the tension right out of it. Part of the problem is that the threat is never clear: if it were a man with a machete, you know what he can do to you. But (until the end), this demon didn’t really seem to have a way to hurt people, it just kind of wiggled stuff around. So there weren’t really any stakes like there would be with a killer in the house.
Solee: Okay. I’d like you to pick one of the characters in the movie and tell me what one thing you think they could have done (within the confines of the movie’s established universe) to change the outcome of the movie.
Mikey: Firstly, I think the nature of these movies is that there is nothing the characters can do – it’s all totally inevitable. Kind of a dumb story then, isn’t it? But realistically, if the equivalent were happening in a real world with this kind of magic in it… well, it’s hard to say since what was an apparently successful ‘exorcism’ (what was it, an eradication? I forget the term they had) had absolutely no effect, it seems like there’s nothing they could ever have done.
Okay – here’s a horrible thing they could’ve done: all the adults could’ve just left, leaving their daughter alone at home. Then she’d get taken and they’d never have been bothered by the witches/demons/etc. I wouldn’t approve of that, but it is a way they’d save themselves from the problem. That is assuming “Toby” isn’t going to become lord and master of the earth and kill everyone anyway, in which case it wouldn’t matter where they went.
Solee: Time to revisit your HALF-TIME thoughts. How accurate were your predictions?
Mikey: I was pretty far off on my expectations of the conclusion, but I blame the movie rather than me: as I mentioned above, they retconned the mythology of the movies! I would’ve been right if they would’ve just followed their own plan.
Solee: It’s definitely the movie’s fault. Finally, how would you rate this movie? Who should watch this movie and in what context?
Mikey: This was the worst Paranormal Activity movie. But I had my fun watching it, as I always do. I will give it a 2 / 5 for having competent acting and special effects and keeping me interested. I wish they had done more with the ‘videos through time’ element (a little ridiculous that they stopped watching those videos, right? They could’ve learned what was going to happen! Maybe those were all the tapes they had. Side note: what would happen if they rewatched that same tape? No sneeze… weird).
I don’t really think anyone should watch it. It actually detracts from the other Paranormal Activity movies (which, let’s face it, aren’t cinematic masterpieces themselves). You’ll enjoy the others more without this one.
Solee: Well, thanks for answering all my questions. Tomorrow, we’re watching the New Zealand film The Dead Room. Netflix gives it one and a half stars, so that should be fun!
Again, in case you missed it earlier, Mike has posted his own interview on his website where you can read all about what I thought of this movie.
*Side note: all pictures accompanying my interviews were drawn by me using the FreshPaint program on my Surface Pro 3. They represent some aspect of the movie. Although my art skills are minimal, I had lots of fun doing them.