Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
2014 - 84 minutes
Directed by:Christopher Landon
Written by:Christopher Landon
Starring:Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor,
The Paranormal Activity franchise is all about the brand and leaving devotees hooked, logic and quality be damned. What started as a charmingly micro-budget, gimmick of a fright flick has morphed into a small-budget churn and burn machine, putting out essentially the same product over and over while raking in huge profits from an audience satisfied with an ever-expanding, murky mythology – one that sustains itself by making things up as it goes along.
If there’s anything to be said for the originality of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones it’s that at least it ditches the security/internet/nanny cam aesthetic of the first four films and moves the setting from suburbia to an inner-city Latino neighborhood. The rest remains the same: bits of plot, confused/excited people, drawn out silence followed by quick jump scare. Repeat.
Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has just graduated high school and it appears his life goal is to mess around at his apartment complex with friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). And now they can document it all with his new video camera. When the weird lady in the ground floor apartment dies, the trio play detective and investigate for no other reason than to move the plot forward. They find a large collection of videotapes (perhaps familiar to fans of the series), ancient texts with requisite creepy drawings and incantations, and a secret room with signs of witchcraft. The sorcery appears to attach itself to Jesse, manifesting first a bite mark on his arm, then in super-human powers, and finally in worsening health coupled with a disagreeable mood. Hector and Marisol continue their digging to try and help their friend.
At first it’s refreshing that this spinoff ditched the time-stamped footage of the first four films, but we realize early on there is no reason for these recordings to have been cobbled together. It’s also rendered impossible that it was recovered due to some ridiculous plot contrivances. With no reason for this footage to exist, it reeks of filmmaking gadgetry, throwing a couple cogs into the machine to tide people over for the next chapter. It’s a production that spins its wheels until a cockamamie climax that tries desperately to tie together the lore of the franchise, but is so ridiculous it borders on parody. The next spinoff may as well be set in outer space or an underwater amusement park. I quite enjoyed the idea of gangbangers versus witches in a shootout, but the film takes itself way too seriously to have fun with developments like that.
The three leads do a competent job of being occasionally endearing and occasionally annoying kids, with Diaz injecting some chuckle-worthy comic relief. Ultimately though they’re just more pieces of the Paranormal Activity universe that continues to expand, but has long collapsed on itself. The tedium of the first half hour tracking the wacky antics of Jesse and Hector mean nothing when the plot machine is set into motion. There’s little awe of their increasingly harrowing situation and no calls to authorities, but they always remember to take the camera everywhere to catch figures lurking in the edge of the frame and other bumps in the night. After continuously putting themselves in harm’s way, I was just amazed they stay alive as long as they do (if they do).
In one sort of interesting development, the crew uses an old “Simon” electronic game to ask the mysterious demonic presence yes-or-no questions – which it answers by illuminating the green and red bulbs. By the third or fourth set of meaningless questions, the Ouija board stand-in grows as stale as the rest of the film. I wonder if the yellow and blue bulbs would represent the answers “I don’t know” and “I don’t care,” which is pretty much where we’re at with the Paranormal Activity story.
Dogs go missing and run away from demonically possessed owners. Loud noises and strange evidence mount; a cursory investigation that portends horrible things doesn’t deter the central characters. They just keep shooting and shooting as they get in more and more over their heads. This stuff is down to a very simple formula now. And as long as people keep showing up at the theater, footage will continue to be “found.”
© 2013 by Blake Crane