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Movie Review

Sometimes children need a strong, authoritative, parental hand in their lives. Especially the ones who are plotting with demons.

Take Leila, for instance. If ever there was an 8-year-old girl who could benefit from a long time-out, it'd be her. She's not a bad girl, really. But like many kids, she's fallen in with the wrong crowd, hers led by "imaginary" friend, Toby.

Now, ordinarily, we at Plugged In would be in favor of children stepping away from their television sets and video games for some nice pretend tea parties with imaginary pals. It's better that Leila have tea with Toby than play Grand Theft Auto V, am I right?

Alas, Toby is not so imaginary, and he has very little interest in tea. In fact, he'd very much like to spend his days killing people. All of them. (So much for steering clear of Grand Theft Auto.) But being a not-wholly-solid spirit, Toby needs a little help to, shall we say, come for a real visit. And Leila is just what the demon needs to stamp his passport.

Leila's parents, Ryan and Emily, are a bit slow on the uptake. When they discover Leila in the middle of the night burying the family rosary in the backyard, they gently lead her back upstairs and tuck her in bed. When Leila rips up the family Bible and throws it in the fire, she's again led tenderly to her bedroom. When she draws odd symbols on one of her bedroom walls—forming, as it would seem, a door—do Ryan or Emily tell her that drawing on the walls is inappropriate? No. Kids will be kids, they seem to believe. What child hasn't *scrawled blasphemous runes in her bedroom?

But by the time Leila starts biting visiting priests, well, things are clearly out of control. The window to read *The Strong-Willed Child has passed, and it's high time someone starts taking tougher measures to cleanse this house (which, come to think of it, they got at a really fantastic price) of demonic influences.

Hey, maybe scrubbing those satanic symbols off the wall might be a good place to start. Just sayin'.

Positive Elements

Ryan and Emily love their little girl, and they go to some great lengths to try to save her. It's also nice that they let Ryan's brother, Mike, stay with them for several weeks after he goes through a bitter breakup. Mike pays them back by lugging around several cameras that Ryan uses to obsessively record the happenings in the house. And without those cameras, we wouldn't have this movie, would we?

OK, maybe that's not so positive, after all.

Spiritual Content

Emily was apparently raised Catholic and, a certain affinity for profanity aside, seems to practice her faith to some extent. The gigantic angel that crowns the Christmas tree was a familial hand-me-down. She owns, as we mentioned, a rosary. But she's not done a great job of passing whatever spirituality she has on to Leila. When Emily tells her friend Skyler that Leila was burning pages from her Bible, Skyler says the 8-year-old probably didn't know what it was.

This is, naturally, a problem in a house shared with a demonic presence. At first Toby looks like just a distortion in Ryan's special spirit-detecting 3-D camera (which he, oddly, found on the premises), but the angry beastie gradually becomes more solid. Leila certainly can see him clearly, and she sometimes draws figures that have scads of eyes and horns. Leila was "chosen" by Toby because she was born on June 6, 2005—the sixth day of the sixth month of the sixth year. The runes Leila scribbled on her wall opens up a door to the past, wherein the demon is waiting for her and hoping to get a bit of her blood to fully materialize. We also see, on video, other girls being "trained" by Toby.

When Mom and Dad finally realize what's going on, they enlist the help of a priest (Father Todd), who uses a variety of means to battle the demon: He brushes holy water on Leila's forehead (and her stuffed bear) to help ward off evil. He fills a tub with holy water and draws a magic circle (the Key of Solomon, it's referred to) to help protect them from the demon. (At one point, they're supposed to be in the circle, but at another they're outside it and the demon's inside, supposedly trapped, so it's a little confusing.) Admitting he needs help, the father confesses to consulting someone "outside the Church" for advice.

Leila plays a creepy version of "Bloody Mary" in front of a mirror (saying the words backwards), a game that we're told summons a witch who will grab you by the neck. Emily shows Leila some nativity set figures, introducing her to Mary, the mother of Jesus. "She's going to have a special baby," Leila says. Emily, naturally, says Leila's right—even though Leila seems to be making a darker point.

Sexual Content

Mike hits on Skyler. Emily invites Ryan to come to bed with her. Ryan tells Mike that he found their dad's old VHS pornographic movies, and they begin to watch one. (The sex scene shows gyrations and near nudity.) They later ogle another woman in a different videotape. Mike positions two Christmas-decor deer to make it look as if they're mating. "Two boys going at it," Ryan notes, referring to the fact that both have antlers. We hear references to genitalia and S&M gear.

Violent Content

One person's back is broken grotesquely in front of a camera. Another hapless soul is skewered through the chest with a ribbon of darkness. Another individual stands, dead, bleeding from the mouth, before being yanked into empty blackness. Yet another is mysteriously strangled, throwing up something black and nasty before expiring. A woman is grabbed by the neck and yanked upward: We hear a sickening crack as her legs dangle in front of the camera.

Leila seems to have an injured hand at one point, then talks about how she needed to give just a little blood for an unholy cause. Someone gets smacked in the head with a ball. We hear about how, in another family, a mother fell down a flight of stairs and died, and how the house that had previously stood on that same spot burned to the ground.

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 40 f-words. A dozen s-words. Also: "b--ch," d--n" and "h---." God's name is misused seven or eight times, Jesus' four or five.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Mike and Ryan share a marijuana-laced candy bar. Beer and wine are consumed. There's a reference to psychedelic mushrooms.

Other Negative Elements

Conclusion

Scares are predicated on unpredictability. It's the unknown and unexpected that most easily frightens us. Which goes a long way toward explaining why Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension is such an unsuccessful horror flick. It is burdened with predictable demons, predictable black-eyed children, even predictable jump scenes. Predictably, no one ever drops or discards their handheld cameras, even when they're being predictably eviscerated. And no one, during the making of this movie, told the director how predictably depressing it all was.

In the Paranormal Activity movies, the demons win. They win every time. No matter how sweet the children or how protective the parents or how loudly they all scream biblical incantations, it's no use. We know, going in, that all the good adults will die horrifically and all the children will follow Toby wherever he leads.

This series is not over-the-top gross, and that, I suppose, is good. Created when people were still seeing Saw movies, the first Paranormal Activity in 2007 was thought of as an antidote to the torture porn pattern, proving that a door strategically swinging could be scarier than buckets of ill-considered blood. And while more standard CGI effects crept to the fore as the sequence spun out, the actual content here is still dialed down. At least by R-rated horror standards.

But in some ways, this franchise is at least as problematic as its gore-encrusted cousins—perhaps more so—because of the message it so reliably puts forth: Hey, your Bibles and bravery and desire to live is great and all, but forget about it. The demon will win. Evil is stronger than good. We're doomed. And the last thing we're liable to see before our spines are ripped out is our children skipping off hand-in-hand with our supernatural assailant.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Christian Beliefs

Other Belief Systems

Authority Roles

Profanity/Violence

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

R

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Chris J. Murray as Ryan; Brit Shaw as Emily; Ivy George as Leila; Dan Gill as Mike; Olivia Taylor Dudley as Skyler; Michael Krawic as Father Todd

Director

Gregory Plotkin ( )

Distributor

Paramount

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

October 23, 2015

On Video

January 12, 2016

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Paul Asay

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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