Following in the same footsteps as other horror franchises, Paranormal Activity has its faithful fans and its hardcore haters. It’s also a franchise that decides it has to change its beat every third movie in hopes of convincing movie goers that they aren’t watching the same movie over and over again. It’s a business plan that works for me.
Since Paranormal Activity 4 was ordinarily playing the same tune as its fantastic third instalment, it’s that time in the series for the game to change. This time, audiences follow a young cast of Latinos – unrelated to the Paranormal Activity story of Katie’s disappearance and murderous ticks. Best buds Jesse and Hector (played by Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz) carelessly and curiously stumble upon ghostly secrets and evidence of a stoic coven soon after their ritualistic neighbour is found dead in her bloodied apartment.
The series’ naysayers take potshots at Paranormal Activity saying the films are loaded with predictable scares and a shallow sense of creativity. I disagree. The filmmaking team behind each film has set out to provide more backstory stabilizing these darkened origins. They provide strange clues allowing movie goers to piece the nefarious history together. The film’s have been building towards some sort of event that has not yet been revealed, but it’s been fun so far.
However, with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, I’m afraid I have to echo some of those aforementioned nitpicks from the other side of the fence. This latest instalment is a straight-up “haunted house” movie using way too many jump scares as well as repetitive camera snap pans to reveal surprise appearances.
With the previous flicks, I’ve always been excited to tell people about the latest Paranormal Activity chapter. The third film still feels fresh because I have oodles of excitement when I beam about its inventive use of a “fan cam”. It gives me chills explaining the scares to outsiders.
Christopher Landon’s The Marked Ones didn’t provide me with that sense of elation and his script doesn’t glow of inventiveness.
There are hints of neat ideas sprinkled throughout his horror as we watch Jesse interact with an unseen spirit through a SIMON electronic game (even though this feels like a dated rehash of the Ouija Board from the first Paranormal Activity) and sneaky surveillance footage captured with Jesse’s GoPro camera. I’ll even give the film credit for scaring me a few times with creepy figures making mad dashes towards the camera as well as some sudden flying objects.
But, a lot of what you’ll see in The Marked Ones are frights you’ve not only seen in lower-grade horror movies, but also in creepy theme parks and Halloween hay rides. One spooky setting is found under a hidden trap door. It’s a damp cellar filled with draping plastic sheets where lights conveniently cast shadows of those who may be standing behind them. All that’s missing is someone’s Dad handing out Mars bars.
Audiences don’t get too many establishing shots of rooms or hallways in The Marked Ones with Landon asking movie goers to comb the room for any eerie details. However, there are a bunch of moments featuring a main point-of-view shot creeping towards a door, a curtain, or darkness as we suspect something will eventually leap out. A couple of these work, but the majority of these scares are overcooked to a point where the audience just wants the mysterious thing to jut out so the movie can progress.
Additionally, those who caught 2012’s Chronicle will be reminded of those initial discoveries to superpowers when Jesse is showing off weird abilities for his camera. You would think Landon would’ve conceived these scenes differently in order to remove any semblance to Chronicle. In fact, a lot of these early scenes in The Marked Ones feel like an off-shoot sequel to the superhero found footage caper rather than another film in the Paranormal Activity library.
Regarding the film’s performances, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the most conspicuous film out of them all. The Hispanic community is that out of a Grand Theft Auto video game and the reactions to freaky events are showy with very little authenticity to any of it. Although, naysayers who have complained about the constant camera handling will appreciate the lead characters ditching the camera when they feel compelled to aid someone.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones checks off all the basic requirements to an average scary movie. In that case, this film barely passes by the skin of its teeth. Christopher Landon, who is making his first directorial splash with The Marked Ones, sails with an uncomplex plan to gather the most uniform scares from a supposedly undemanding audience. This maybe could’ve seamlessly worked earlier in the series, but by now, those avid fans want something more than the bare minimum.
But, then that jaw dropper of an ending comes flying in like a dead body through a pane window. It’ll undoubtably split audiences with some thinking the decision is an incredible device to up the ante for the next movie, while others will believe Paranormal Activity has “jumped the shark”.
Personally, it was a pleasant surprise during an experience that was uncomfortably tense. It doesn’t “jump the shark”, but I just hope this bold reroute doesn’t turn the series into a snake eating its own tail.