January is not usually known as a month for quality theatrical horror films. For years, it has been known as a last resort dumping ground for studio movies. Paramount and the Blumhouse Productions team turn that around with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, opening January 3rd, which you could call a spin-off (which doesn’t necessarily mean it will break from the canon) or “sidequel” – a term I called Saw IV many years ago when its true nature was revealed.
The industry background talk on this entry was that it was made to play to the demographic that was coming out in droves to the previous Paranormal Activity films: The Latino audience. That hardly matters because what we have on our hands is a spookshow that is well-made within the formula we’ve come to expect from the Paranormal Activity universe. It packs some decent jump scares and – surprisingly, in this age of “everyone knows everything about every film way before it comes out” – delivers an ending you’ll never see coming.My affection for this series has grown somewhat since the first film hit.
On one hand, I commend the series as being an interesting exercise in classic fright-making. Each film manipulates its audience with classic horror movie tropes that would please the likes of William Castle (House on Haunted Hill) or Robert Wise (The Haunting). If an entry is lucky enough, it’ll introduce a scene worthy of a “best scenes in horror” book (the “fan cam” moment in Paranormal Activity 3). On the other hand, I like the mythology laden with witchcraft, dark deals, possession and demons. You can only push this all so far, however, and that’s why we get clunkers like Paranormal Activity 4 which halted the series, offered nothing fresh and did nothing story-wise to push things forward. (Well, it sort of did, but it didn’t make much sense.)
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones takes us to Oxnard, California and introduces us to all-new characters that are connected to the mythology. And what it does right is make us like them right away. At the story’s core is Jesse, Hector and Marisol, an amiable group of teens who are believable and actually quite funny. As we follow them on their spooky descent, their reactions ring true and they’re definitely a fun bunch to watch.
Per usual, there are equal parts funhouse-style scares and delicious bits of dread to be had. Similar to the aforementioned “fan” sequence from PA3, The Marked Ones makes clever use of an unassuming object, in this case an electronic Simon Says game that proves to be a conduit to the supernatural. And what’s especially refreshing is that the story has a sense of drive to it. There’s investigation and discovery. It’s actually pushing to a conclusion and it’s not merely a sequence of creepy nights caught on camera until there’s an outburst of violence that draws the story to a close (looking at you again, Paranormal Activity 4).
Beyond playing host to some really fun, inventive moments, The Marked Ones does an excellent job of connecting itself to the previous entries and widening the mythology. It offers some – SOME – answers and opens the doors to others but is, overall, a movie that the fans are going to eat up and hyper-analyze. My problem is that these films take baby steps in the information it dishes out. I’d like my rewards to be more than just jump scares. So, while The Marked Ones gives a little, it also opens the door to more questions, thus ensuring more sequels.
What Paranormal Activity’s end game is, I have no clue. I’m with it if future installments are done well like The Marked Ones is. Next time though, please don’t put the camera back in the hands of a group of teenagers. Their “camera work” is seriously nauseating this time.