Review: 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' Adds a Little Craziness
by Jeremy Kirk
January 3, 2014
The Paranormal Activity franchise is so unstoppable, it couldn't even be controlled with one storyline. With Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the series heads off in a somewhat different direction, introducing new characters to video record and contend with the demons, curses, and witches that have sprung up thus far. The simplicity of this series has long been exercised and The Marked Ones isn't particularly inventive either in the way it builds, sets up, and pays off its individual scares. There is some craziness, including one wacky addition that will shake up the whole series, but it's difficult getting around how run-of-the-mill everything feels. At least there's hope for the future of this once-cool horror franchise.
Labelled a "spin-off", The Marked Ones follows a small group of Latino teenagers who discover a dark secret in their apartment building. A strange, old woman lives in the unit underneath them. Around the neighborhood, she is believed to be some kind of a witch. However, when something tragic happens to her and the teens decide to investigate her apartment, they find those rumors are true. The ritualistic items they find as well as some familiar video equipment spells very serious trouble for them all. It isn't long before one of the teens begins experiencing some very strange activity, and the bite mark he picked up in his sleep isn't helping ease anyone's nerves.
Director Christopher Landon also wrote the screenplay for The Marked Ones as he has done for all of the Paranormal Activity films since the second one. Yet, to look at this series from the second film on, there seems to be very little in the way of overall franchise planning. These films come out of the gate looking, sounding, and feeling exactly like the ones before, with what amounts to 15-20 minutes of actual series progression. Even this usually comes off as half-developed or worse as with Paranormal Activity 4.
The shift in character and location for this spin-off was done for demographic reasons, the people behind the franchise aiming for a more ethnic niche audience. Landon's screenplay delves into the Latino world of black magic, the characters going to a local shop lined wall-to-wall with candles rather than a priest for answers. The dangerous streets of LA are also utilized here, but nothing gets fleshed out enough to matter. By the time the "activity" finally does kick in, it's back to Paranormal Activity business as usual.
The whole "found footage" idea is no longer a plot point. The characters just film everything for no discernible reason, the whole "why are you still filming" question hardly even getting raised this time around. This is nothing new. Found footage movies have essentially become POV movies in the last couple of years, the style serving very little purpose other than to put the audience right in the middle of the action. Or horror as the case is here. Save for some fleeting moments, though, there's no reason at all for this shooting style in The Marked Ones, and this too becomes just another element this series seems to have to include for the sake of the franchise.
At least Landon moves away from the stationary approach. All of the action/horror we're in the middle of is moving around us, the camera darting back and forth to just barely get a look at something terrifying. At this, Landon excels, and the scares this time around, common as they are, are pretty decent. The jump scares are in there. That's not something you'll ever get away from in today's horror. However, Landon understands the concept of a frightening image, whether that image is slow and quiet or all up in your face. The Marked Ones brings with it a lot of each.
It's also hard not to commend the acting here. Andrew Jacobs, as "the marked one", is just a teenager, and he and Landon's character vibe well together to create a genuine kid for which you can only sit back and pray for the best. Landon's film feels like one aimed at the very teenager we're watching on screen, and the heavy R-rated tone he kicks in here can only be viewed as an intentional reflection. The Paranormal Activity series has always been rated R, but this is just a bit sexier and just a bit meaner.
You could say The Marked Ones is just a bit more insane, as well. You have to get through the blood-soaked wheel-spinning that plays throughout the first hour here, but the ending takes it all in a direction as gutsy as it is ridiculous. Unfortunately the results are hokey and actually end up hurting other elements, other moments, of the series. However, without giving away too much, let's just say it makes everything all the more interesting for Paranormal Activity 5. Or The Marked Ones 2. Or whatever is going to happen.
Whatever it's called, let's hope for a more complete film next time from the Paranormal Activity crew. The Marked Ones has its place in the series. Neither the best nor the worst, it delivers enough visceral scares and storytelling jolts to satisfy any horror fan. For the most part, it's paranormal business as usual, but at least The Marked Ones finds a way to pay off all those bumps in the night.
Jeremy's Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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