While the film is different from its predecessors in several aspects, it still reeks of the smothering sameness of them in several areas as well.
Halloween 2013 felt a little unremarkable this year, from the lack of spirit in my local neighborhood, the presence of only one theatrically-released horror film during the whole month of October (Carrie), and the first time since 2009 I didn’t spend one Saturday morning in the theater watching an installment of the Paranormal Activity franchise. Call it a blessing, a curse, or what-have-you, I felt a tad incomplete. While each sequel to 2009’s surprisingly great Paranormal Activity was significantly lacking in some way or another, I always looked forward to what exactly was in store for the next film. If that old saying was true, I’m a cat who lost all his nine lives rather quickly.
However, the January-release of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones continues with my other unintentional-tradition that my first theater-film of the year is a very mediocre horror film, 2013’s being Texas Chainsaw 3D and 2012’s being The Devil Inside. The Marked Ones is the franchise’s second spinoff – if you count the Tokyo-released Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night (unseen by me), but I digress – jumbling up all that we came to know before, this time concerning a Latino family in the working/middle class, Hispanic neighborhood of Oxnard, California. The film revolves around Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), his buddy Hector (Jorge Diaz), and his sister Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) as they experience obscure “paranomalities” after their elderly apartment neighbor dies in strange circumstances. Jesse and Hector would always hear odd sounds coming from their neighbor’s home, which was located directly beneath there’s, but now that she’s dead, they discover something even more haunting – Jesse’s gradual descent into troubling behavior.
Jesse discovers bite-marks on his arm, and begins to develop anti-social, aggressive tendencies towards random people and loved ones. He loses touch with reality, and himself, similar to another neighborhood friend named Oscar (Carlos Pratts), who we often see whipping around town during the night at hyper-speeds. As with the previous four films, the friends of the victim – in this case, his buddy and his sister – desperately try to piece together what exactly is happening with Jesse and what can be done to stop it.
Jesse has got to be one of the most fortunate victims in the Paranormal Activity franchise, spinoff or not, because he is one of the few protagonists we become invested in just enough to care about when these events begin to occur. Past victims other than Katie in the original film have been difficult to sympathize with because we don’t know a lot about them. Because the camera never leaves Jesse, and many scenes involve him doing pretty normal, day-to-day stuff with his equally likable buddy Hector, liking him and expressing a fondness for his character isn’t an unheard of thing.
While this keeps The Marked Ones adequately afloat, the film still seems to suffer from an identity crisis, particularly with the heavy inclusion of comedy, which simultaneously makes the picture more interesting but also manages to throw it off. Consider the scene where Jesse, Hector, and Marisol screw about with a “Simon Says” toy, which only seems to utilize two of its four colors, green and red. When one of the three ask it a “yes or no” question, it replies with the corresponding colors. The scene is eerie, but because the friends make it out to be humorous throws kills the film’s tone. When Jesse’s descent into anti-social and borderline sociopathic tendencies come into play – about forty to fifty minutes into the film – is when the horror elements begin to make way and even those feel underwhelming.
I blame this on the commonality of these kinds of films in recent years. I hesitate greatly to rewatch the originalParanormal Activity because I fear that my extreme love and fondness for it was only so high because I hadn’t seen a film like that in many years (at the time, of course). Watching The Marked Ones a surprising five years after the release of that film, I went from flinching and squirming in my seat to sitting idly by, watching everything happening on screen and never flinching or squirming once during its eighty-four minute runtime. All the scares feel perfunctory and, someone like me who has seen so many found footage films since 2009 (I reckon roughly twenty), I feel like an expert on the genre and as if I’m one step ahead of it for the entire time.
And, once more, we get little idea as to what is haunting these characters. Again, the film offers more cute little twists (I’m completely lost at what the ending we’re given here is getting at and when it takes place in this series’ timeline), plot-strands, and such minimal exposition as to what is haunting these characters, it’s as if asking for more information is a pointless request that will do nothing but waste your breath.
I applaud Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones for three things: one, giving us a character we can like and sort of connect with two, not turning out to be the abysmal film the trailer made it look like, with its production values and editing that resembled a fan-made homage to the franchise by teenagers on Youtube, and three, giving me an opportunity to exercise my one and a half years of public school Spanish. While the film is different from its predecessors in several aspects, it still reeks of the smothering sameness of them in several areas as well. All I can say at this point is simply “next.”
Review by Steve Pulaski, Lead Film Critic