Trudging through the wasteland of found-footage, Paranormal Activity has always managed to stay afloat where others – that attempted a similar style – were quickly dismissed. The feel of amateur footage lends itself greatly to the typical tropes of supernatural horror, adding a slightly more effective dose of realism and making it so much more confronting and frightening. The first three entries in this franchise kept the genuinely haunting scares at a persistent level, but the fourth was a complete bomb; an insipid entry which was enough for many to deem the franchise officially dead.
Not exactly fitting in as an official fifth instalment, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, markets itself as a spin-off, despite faintly tying into the other films and cleverly adding layers to the larger story arc of witches, demons, and their bemused vessels.
The Marked Ones zones in on several Latino teens living in a small apartment block on the grittier part of California, one of which loves their brand new handheld camera; a fairly lazy, standard way to introduce Paranormal Activity’s chief mode of cinematography. Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) – the camera’s owner – and Hector (Jorge Diaz) – his best friend – are irreverent and carefree kids looking to spend their summer ‘clowning around’ as most teens do.
Living upstairs from a reclusive elderly lady, Jesse discovers a new use for his camera with Hector’s help: peeping. They use a shabby vent to spy on their downstairs neighbour and catch her performing a ritual on an unknown naked woman. When the lady is murdered in her apartment – seemingly by a schoolmate – Jesse and Hector stupidly break into the crime scene and discover all sorts of alarming and disturbing items, including surgical equipment which never comes into play throughout the film, and the very real fact that their poor neighbour never even had a single light switch (or she did and they just never thought to, you know, turn the lights on).
This breaking and entering is where Jesse unknowingly becomes marked; represented by creepy bite marks from a belligerent demon who enjoys using that old electronic game Simon to mess with the kids’ heads. Soon after, Jesse develops what he believes to be super powers; instead of him and Hector questioning this supernatural event, they roll with it, perhaps because witchcraft is a very real belief in Hispanic culture; that doesn’t make it nothing to worry about though, right?
Jesse becomes increasingly violent and reckless, leading Hector to search for answers and stumble upon links which extend back into the other films.
What follows is fairly predictable to anyone who has seen the previous instalments. The biggest difference here is that the world is much more open; instead of sitting in a house all day, we are taken around the neighbourhood to various settings like a basketball court and a convenience store. This exploration goes against the claustrophobic feel of the first four and lets us see more character development, which in turn makes this cast a tad bit more likeable and memorable than those poor souls who have come before them.
As for the scares; The Marked Ones has very little. The build up is effectively tense, but lacks the heart-stopping quality that the first three titles had. Instead, director Christopher Landon – who was a screenwriter for the travesty that wasParanormal Activity 4 – clumsily mishandles the few opportunities for genuinely creepy moments, and instead of jumping around in our seats, we are left making internal suggestions to the movie: “you could have done that, that would have been so much scarier.”
Something about the focus being shifted towards witches takes away from the frightening element of Paranormal Activity and makes it a bit more of a joke; seeing old women run in various directions, trying to knife teenagers is less intense than demons invisibly plotting to kill. Fortunately, the screenwriters don’t take it too seriously, instead giving us a devilishly fun sequence which involves a shotgun and a ridiculous gangsters-versus-witches battle. The cinema was full of hysterical laughing rather than shrieks of terror.
The Marked Ones is a step back in the right direction to atone for the rubbish fourth film, introducing a few new tricks but ultimately treading shallow water where the real draw card – the terror – is concerned.
Review Score: TWO AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is currently screening in cinemas nation-wide and a 84 minute duration.