A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and Halloween. Once studios see profitability from a beloved horror movie they will more than likely attempt to cash in on sequels that will undoubtedly lose steam somewhere around the third film. Recently we have seen this with Saw (stopping after its seventh flick in 2010), and here with Paranormal Activity, which got its start in 2009. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones tries very hard to break this curse. Despite rebuilding some faith after a feeble fourth entry, The Marked Ones holds back the franchise from the crucial revival it needs due to weak scares and little expansion in the mythology.
One year after the events of Paranormal Activity 4, this spin-off removes the focus from Katie and Kristi in San Diego County and takes us north to Oxnard, California. Here we meet 18-year-old Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), who just graduated high school, and Hector (Jorge Diaz), his best friend who has to document his friend’s educational triumph. After discovering that Jesse’s estranged elderly neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval) was murdered in her apartment by the valedictorian of their high school, the duo makes the obvious decision to investigate the ordeal. Of course Jesse stumbles upon some bad juju when they enter her apartment, which might explain the strange sounds and behavior he had encountered from his newly deceased neighbor.
With the well of found footage films all but dried up, the Paranormal Activity series has always been one to progress the medium in ways we haven’t seen before, as Saw did with its unique traps. Unfortunately The Marked Ones drops the ball. No fan cameras or cool Xbox Kinect effects, just simple handheld, first person photography and one scene with a Go-Pro. I will give TMO credit for finally stepping out beyond the confines of a household, but with that said there is a lot of untapped potential in doing so. And if you’re like me, insisting there should be a purpose for the people to be shooting with their cameras at all times, you won’t find one here. Luckily there isn’t much shaky-cam to cause nausea.
What The Marked Ones also makes up for from the poorly written PA4 is personality. Jesse and Hector are a likeable pair to follow along on their journey. Not much depth to them, but they’re tolerable enough to laugh with amongst the handful of comedic moments that loosen you up before the panic takes flight. The Marked Ones winds up having some of the funniest bits of the saga.
Sadly there is poor tension built up with each cheap jump scare or peek-a-boo scare. All of these sequences are predominantly predictable, having used the formula four times now: calm movements and subtle glances of the camera mixed in with a slow-building, deep bass white noise. If jump scares still make for a good horror experience for you, by all means The Marked Ones will raise your blood pressure. But if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, there is minimal quality in the terror depicted that neither frightens, disturbs, or entertains.
But what fascinates me about The Marked Ones is the interwoven stories from previous entries. At times the decision to inject references from older PA movies are just to wink at the audience or they’re forced in to progress the minimal plot; one person makes a brief appearance just to dish out exposition that our characters couldn’t discover on their own. On the other hand, there are some instances where these references serve the story well and actually succeed in retaining my attention.
My biggest concern now is that I hope writer/director Christopher Landon (contributing writer for PA2, PA3, PA4) has not cornered the franchise in a situation it cannot get out of, much like Saw did with its delicately connected plot threads. Some goodwill has been restored here, but PA5 releasing this October needs to hit it out of the park creatively to keep fans engaged and terrified once more.
Although a spin-off, The Marked Ones does not bode well as a stand-alone film. The first three movies are a necessity to understand and appreciate what the filmmakers are trying to do. I am happy to tell you that they practically neglect the existence of PA4 though, so you can skip that monstrosity. Overall, The Marked Ones is a passable entry to a noteworthy horror series that creates enough intrigue to believe that Paranormal Activity is back on track in the right direction.
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Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is directed by Christopher Landon, with a run time of 84 minutes. This film has been rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use. (Watch the trailer here)
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