‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ Review
Before ‘Paranormal Activity 5′ comes out this Halloween and continues the terrifying tale of the possessed Katie and her spooky nephew, Paramount Pictures has unveiled the spin-off ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.’ Made to cater to the Latino audience that has been a major force in making this franchise a hit, this found-footage feature dedicatedly plays by the rules and expectations of the first four films while building on its mythos in a way that is sure to satisfy fans.
‘The Marked Ones’ centers on e18-year-old Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), who has just graduated high school and is looking forward to a summer of carefree fun with his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). This includes doing tequila shots with Jesse’s adorable grandmother, riding a laundry basket down a flight of stairs at their apartment complex and messing with their creepy neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval), who everyone gossips is a witch. (All of which they videotape, naturally.) But these rumors take on a startling gravity when strange things begin to happen to Jesse, who now bears a bizarre bite mark on his arm and can commit uncanny feats of strength. As Jesse’s transformation becomes violent, his friends desperately seek to save him from what all signs indicate is demonic possession.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon, who had a hand in the scripts of ‘Paranormal Activity’ 2 through 4, ‘The Marked Ones’ shows a clear awareness of what the audience expects from the latest entry in this franchise. And by and large, it delivers. Landon quickly sets us up with a batch of affable characters that are relatable in their youthful recklessness and naiveté. He further binds us to them through use of the found footage device that keeps us fused to their bewildered point of view throughout.
In this movie, Hector, Jesse’s dopey but loyal bestie, is the shutterbug who never puts his camera down. But to Landon’s credit, he manages to motivate much of the recording through Hector’s desire to show off on Youtube or by having the camera’s light or night vision feature be the way this trio maneuvers in creepy dark settings. In this way he generally overcomes that found footage obstacle of justifying why the character is still shooting.
Landon also knows to play to the audience with mounting tension relieved by jump scares. The audience we saw the film with bucked and bellowed with each new scare. ‘The Marked Ones’ is satisfyingly frightening as it builds the emerging mythology of a witches’ coven and loops itself into the pre-established storyline. However, while the first act is strong — deftly setting up the world and characters — the second meanders with some repeated beats and aimless scenes. Thankfully, Landon’s third act redeems it with a finale that will have fans of the franchise freaking out for all the right reasons.
Without going into spoilers that would ruin the fantastic final act’s surprise, we can say that one of the welcomed elements ‘The Marked Ones’ brings to the franchise is serious firepower. But beyond that, there’s little innovation here. Like, there’s no scare that compares to the oscillating fan setup of ‘Paranormal Activity 3,’ but Landon’s offshoot story is far more fun and engaging than the dud that was ‘Paranormal Activity 4.’
Landon had a tricky task in playing to one audience without isolating others, while building on a pre-established mythos. He did both of these admirably, making a ‘Paranormal Activity’ movie that feels familiar yet doesn’t reek of retread. All in all, ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’ is a solidly scary edition to the franchise, offering a new and freshly exciting venue for this devilish drama to unfold.