It’s taken five films to sift through and explain the complicated marriage of witchcraft and Satan that has been brought to light in the Paranormal Activity series. The original film started off simply enough. Newlywed couple Katie and Micah moves into their new home only to be welcomed by a demonic presence that has been haunting Katie all her life. Some unexplainable occurrences take place and Katie dies or disappears (depending on the ending you saw at the time). The corresponding films are an attempt to explain the freakiness of the original. Somewhere in there the notion of sacrificing babies is introduced, then the existence of a group of witches who are responsible for the possessions and hauntings. Despite garnering a total of five films that attempt to fill in the blanks, those blanks become increasingly hollow and confusing, making Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones one ridiculously unnecessary blank of a film.
Jesse, a resident of Oxnard, California, is freshly 18 and just graduated high school. As a congratulatory present he receives a camera from his family which gives him the desire to document everything that follows graduating. With his best friends Hector and Marisol, the group aimlessly go about their daily activities: hanging out, smoking weed, partying, and pranking each other. Things soon begin to get weird when Anna, Jesse’s eccentric neighbor, begins to act stranger than normal, and Jesse happens to spy on a ritual taking place in her home. After Anna is killed by Jesse’s high school friend, Jesse begins to connect the dots of all the strange happenings in his life from his mother’s death at his birth to the strange bite on his arm that’s given way to moments of supernatural powers and trances.
I raise a glass in celebratory cheers to writer-director Christopher B. Landon for venturing out of suburbia and giving the Paranormal Activity franchise a fresh, new twist. The stars of the film are Latino which gives way to great moments that delve into the culture and its spiritual aspects. Desperate to rid her grandson of the spirit, Jesse’s grandmother visits a religious shop in search for answers. There we are exposed in grandiose depth to icons and rituals of the syncretic Catholicism practiced by members of Mexican descent. Jesse also learns a bit of the origins of what we have been waiting to figure out for seven years. The scale of possessions is shown to be massive, stretching all over the country and effecting families of all races and origins. Unfortunately, this leaves the possibility for further, continuous stories of the franchise to incessantly suckle from my wallet.
No man, it’s not a ghost. Look closer, it’s your mom in the shower.
Now, for that glass I raised earlier, I’d like to take a chug from it then pour the rest over Landon’s head for another unnecessary addition to the Paranormal Activity saga. The Marked Ones ends no differently than the last one, or the one before that for that matter. Spoiler alert: It’s witches. There’s a coven of them possessing first born males. If you didn’t know that before and planned on seeing this one, then you’re welcome. I just saved you a couple of bucks and an hour and a half of your life. Now for those who’ve seen the previous films, this is no surprise. The only surprise is that The Marked Ones doesn’t expound on what we already knew from the previous films.
The Marked Ones is creepy and I respect its angle of scare tactics. Landon brilliantly denies viewers of expected scares; instead he acts seemingly one step ahead, presenting us with clichéd set-ups, denying us of those expected scares, then prompting with a slightly unforeseen scare. However, all of that feels empty and vapid when the ending grants us no further knowledge of what is happening to these characters and why.
Eye can’t believe they’re still making these films.
Can Hollywood retire the “found footage” trope in films already? A rhetorical question, I know. A film that costs pennies to produce in comparison to the overall gross it will make back is far too profitable to give up on, regardless of how kitschy and annoying the trend has become. It’s been over 10 years since The Blair Witch Project introduced the method to the masses and seven years since Paranormal Activity smashed the box office enough to set off a chain reaction of innumerable films using the gimmick of first person point of view. There are moments when The Marked Ones’ use of first person direction is spot on, making scenes creepier and more ominous. A sequence when Jesse comes face to face with a high school friend who is possessed can send chills down the spine at how intimately close he gets when explaining what horrors Jesse should expect next.
Likewise, the shock of things happening before the subject and camera are ready to capture them is impressive in its usage. But, POV just doesn’t work as a whole in films. After a while the question of why they don’t just put down the damn camera and do something is inevitable. These questions may also arise: Why would they take the camera down there? Why aren’t they using lamps instead of just the camera light? Why are they recording right now? In one scene Jesse is seen last with the camera. But the next scene reveals Hector at the helm, who is just getting to Jesse’s house. So, Hector just walked in and immediately picked up the camera and started recording? How is it not damaged after the night before? Frankly, the gimmick being used for the sake of “ahh factor” is getting exhausting. Save the poorly lit, shaky recordings of an event for YouTube. When I pay my hard-earned, taxed-gutted money on a film, I want bright sexy lighting, intricate angles, and some depth of field.
I can’t be mad at Landon for continuing the story of Katie and Micah that so long ago was new and exhilarating. No, the daggers in my eyes are shot at the studio executives who only see dollar signs when they keep green lighting these sequels. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t a bad film. It’s actually one of the better follow ups in the series thanks to lead actors Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz’s enticing chemistry. If only The Marked Ones had come out earlier, then it wouldn’t have to suffer the its unavoidable lampooning fate due to being the 5th in a series that has failed to give us any “whys” or “hows.”
That’s the problem with the Paranormal Activity series; after five films it’s still an underdeveloped story that raises more questions than it does scares or answers. In fact, American Horror Story: Coven has done more advancing in their tale of witchcraft in nine episodes of one season than Paranormal Activity has in five feature length films. The Marked Ones strength lies in the multicultural aspect of letting Hispanics lead the film and telling its story from an alternate angle. Sadly, its major flaw is that it does nothing more than waste enough time to distract fans into paying money. I can’t wait until this series ends so the slow torture for horror fans everywhere can be absolved.
Take a Sip: for every scene meant to make you jump.
Take a Sip: every time Jesse convinces Hector to do something stupid.
Take a Sip: every time someone asks about Oscar.
Take a Sip: every time you see the “symbol”