Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) / Horror
MPAA Rated: R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity, and some drug use
Running Time: 84 min.
Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, David Saucedo, Gloria Sandoval, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts
Small role: Molly Ephraim, Katie Featherston, Chloe Csengery, Jessica Tyler Brown, Micah Sloat
Director: Christopher Landon
Screenplay: Christopher Landon
Review published January 6, 2014
Although The Marked Ones is being labeled as a spin-off to the Paranormal Activity franchise, this is a bit misleading. It is no less removed from the overall story than, say, Paranormal Activity 4. It also is the movie that gives the most revelations thus far as to what all of the strange events in all of the films are all about, and where the franchise is heading toward in the future. Also, certain aspects of the film will likely not make complete sense unless you've seen the prior Paranormal Activity films, especially the climactic ending which sees certain things happen that hearken back all the way to the very first film. Actually, even those who have seen all of the prior films will likely be confused by this part, as The Marked Ones continues to tease more than explain, which is something that should give it some buzz for the fans of the series who haven't dropped off long ago.
The reason for the spin-off is a targeted marketing campaign by Paramount and the creative minds of the series. Their box office information suggests that a sizeable portion of the Paranormal Activity filmgoers are young and Latino, so they've created an offshoot experiment to see if additional inroads can be had by switching up the lily-white characters in favor of a mostly Hispanic ensemble.
First-time actor Andrew Jacobs stars as Jesse, a post-high school teen living in Oxnard, California, who spends his days goofing around with his camera pulling "Jackass" style stunts with his best friend Hector (Diaz, Love Concord). The boys goof a lot regarding the antics of Jesse's portly, older downstairs neighbor, Anna (Sandoval, The Heartbreak Kid) , whom they claim is some sort of "bruja", Spanish for witch. They are so intrigued by her weird activities that they mount a GoPro (a small mountable cam) on a rope and dangle it down the air vent to spy on her activities, only to find that there's some sort of weird, nudie ritual going on in her apartment.
Not soon afterward, Anna has a fatal calamity, and the curious young men can't help but to check out her apartment looking for "clues" as to what she's been up to. They find lots of weird evidence that their jokes about her witchy-ness may not unfounded, so when Jesse ends up waking up with a nasty bite-mark on his arm the next day, it's just the first of a great many increasingly odd things going on inside him that may change his life forever (a la Chronicle), seemingly for the better -- at first.
The Marked Ones should please fans of the series, and as it ties in directly to the flagship franchise. It features the same "found footage" premise, the same basic build-up and crazy ending, the same source of malevolence, and even Katie Featherston (Paranormal Activity 3) makes her obligatory cameo appearance. As with every film since Paranormal Activity 2, Christopher Landon writes the screenplay, and actually takes the reins for the first time as the director, delivering the most entertaining of the series since the first film. It's also the funniest of the five PA films thus far, mostly because the two male leads are pretty funny guys, but as Jesse begins to change, he loses much of his effervescent appeal, and the film's second half strikes a decidedly darker tone.
Other than the all-Hispanic cast, there are a few notable differences between The Marked Ones and the previous four Paranormal Activity entries. First, the source of the malevolence doesn't haunt anyone's abode, per se, which means that there are no security cameras set up in order to try to catch strange activities going on around the house 24/7. In fact, there is only one video camera involved, which is carried alternately by either the main character, Jesse, or his best friend Hector.
As the camera is handheld, that also means the amount of shaky-cam action is persistent throughout, which may unnerve those susceptible to motion sickness. Other than for filming a stunt, there's absolutely no reason given as to why Jesse decides to film every movement of his life, or why Hector takes up the camera when Jesse hands it to him, but plausibility has never been a strong suit of this series in this regard. The Ouija board from prior entries is replaced by the popular electronic memory game, Simon, which an unseen spirit uses to communicate to the mortals through answering questions, with "green" meaning "yes", and "red" meaning "no." And perhaps the biggest change is that it is the first of the films to have any sort of nudity, though not always the kind you might have been looking for coming in.
While The Marked Ones represents a welcome change of pace from the other films in the series thus far, it isn't even close to a clean break. It's very much in keeping with the rest of the movies, both thematically and in story elements. If you've given up on the franchise already, it's not the kind of film that will get you back into the fold, but for those who enjoy these cheapie formula fright films, it should deliver the minimal-effort goods you're seeking.
As for me, while I won't say I didn't find The Marked Ones to be the least tedious of the Paranormal Activity sequels, it's still hard to justify movie ticket prices for something so derivative. This franchise is 'marked' to experience a slow, painful death of diminishing returns.
©2014 Vince Leoem>