By the time Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones comes to a close it’s a little maddening that, once again, very little that could be considered “new” is brought to the table. This is merely the same scares with a new family and a little bit of Chronicle thrown in to stir things up.
The intention with each one of the installments in the Paranormal Activity franchise, following the first film in 2009, seems to be an attempt to add one little piece of information to the mythology, hoping it keeps people interested before the next one arrives. Therefore, if your interest is largely in the narrative the previous four films were weaving you’re likely to be disappointed, though if a series of “boo” scares similar to what you’ve seen before are why you’re buying a ticket, then there are more than enough to go around. Add to that, if seeing a witch take a shotgun blast to the stomach is more to your liking, well, stop reading and reserve yourself a seat now.
Marked Ones has been sold as a Latino spin-off from the original franchise of films, but to say this isn’t merely Paranormal Activity 5 is a confusing bit of deception because that’s exactly what it is. Not to mention calling it a “Latino spin-off” is a bit insensitive considering where it takes place and the stereotypes the film plays to, but I don’t want to waste time discussing marketing tactics.
The story takes place in 2012, in Oxnard, CA with a focus on Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), a recent high school graduate, and his two closest friends, Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). As a graduation gift, Jesse’s father gives him a new camcorder which will serve as our window into the rest of the story, though it may be the most problematic use of the found footage style of storytelling the franchise has relied on yet. Certainly the screwball, Jackass-esque behavior Jesse and Hector capture on camera makes sense, but most of the time I couldn’t help but wonder why Hector (whom the camera didn’t even belong to) would continue to record everything they did (especially since a lot of it is illegal), but I guess this will be an aspect of these stories that can always be picked at.
Nevertheless, we are soon witness to Jesse’s creepy downstairs neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), who eventually ends up dead, prompting Jesse and Hector to break into her apartment and begin snooping. What Jesse isn’t aware of is that he has been “marked” and is about to have his own run in with the demon we’ve come to know as Toby from previous Paranormal films, or if it’s not “Toby” it’s something similar. The only difference I noticed was this demon enjoys “yes/no” question and answer sessions using an old Simon game, but can you blame an evil spirit from the Underworld wanting to have a little fun?
Things escalate from there as a few details about the franchise mythology become a bit more clear and a literal door connecting this film to the rest of the franchise — not to mention a brief scene with Ali (Molly Ephraim) from Paranormal Activity 2 — ties things together.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon, whose been responsible for writing the Paranormal story ever since the second film, Marked Ones is satisfying if you’re looking for just another Paranormal Activity film with the same scares surrounding a different family. Like pretty much everything else in Hollywood, this franchise has simply become a series of feature length episodes where only a small amount of information is learned each time out as virtually the same thing happens all over again with each outing.
If anything, Marked Ones could be applauded for creating actual characters for the first time since the original Paranormal film as Jacobs and Diaz do a solid job creating a believable friendship between Jesse and Hector and Renee Victor, playing Jesse’s grandmother, brings a bit of fun as she kicks back a couple of tequila shots.
Where Paranormal Activity 5 will take things from here I’m not sure, but I think it’s time the franchise took a look at its mythology from the other side of the line separating good and evil. The same tired story of possession has run its course and as much as it’s fun to get a little creeped out every now and then, one thing this franchise started off doing quite well is also engaging the audience in its mythology. It would be nice to see a little more movement in that department going forward.