From haunted houses to witches, the creators of the “Paranormal Activity” series never know when to throw in the towel. Demonic presences in WASPy suburban neighborhoods get really old after four movies. However, in “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” Christopher Landon, the writer and director for the previous films, decided to introduce some diversity and change the setting to a working-class neighborhood in Oxnard, Calif. with a Latino protagonist. Despite the change of scenery, the scares are still the same, and the only new element is so ridiculous that the next “Paranormal Activity” film will have a hard time trying to tie everything together.
Instead of haunted houses, this spin-off focuses on the series’ mythology. Following the death of their mysterious neighbor, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) break into her apartment and find evidence of satanic worship — something familiar to the prior titles in the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. Unlike the first four films, which utilized the concept of supernatural presences stalking the inhabitants of the household, this movie features tangible effects as Jesse gets an animal-like bite mark on his arm and develops strange powers from it. He’s able to do levitation tricks and throw bullies long distances like Superman. He is the luckiest kid in the world, until the powers start growing more malevolent and change him for the worst.
The “Paranormal Activity” crew has perfected the art of scaring audiences with no background noise at all. This was their signature move in their past four films and it’s their signature move in this one. However, at this point, it’s nothing new and almost predictable — such as a demonic figure suddenly appearing out of nowhere or behind the protagonist. It’s been done over and over again but the cheap scares still manage to affect everyone. The one scene that did work was when Jesse and Hector break into his neighbor’s apartment and find some surprising terrors behind a hidden door. Other than that, the scares were extremely similar to the rest of the franchise — and any other found-footage film, for that matter.
The format is still exactly the same as the previous films. However, instead of planted cameras, “The Marked Ones” is less static, entirely captured by Hector using a camcorder that was supposedly given to Jesse as a high school graduation present. However, it feels like it was shot by a five-year-old. The footage was shaky and barely focused on the subject at hand, instead switching from the protagonists’ reactions to the scary events, which didn’t give the audience a chance to grasp what was going on.
Jesse and Hector have perfect chemistry with each other, while Marisol seems like the third wheel. Hector is seen as the comic relief in the first half with his vulgar language and his “Jackass” antics, attempting to mimic Jesse’s levitation tricks and failing miserably. His humor makes the film a bit lighter than the others. Marisol is easily forgettable as the token female protagonist who simply follows Hector and Jesse around.
I have to wonder why this was specifically titled “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” and not just “Paranormal Activity 5.” While it looks like it’s a separate film, the director adds some clues that tie the previous films to this one. The teenage daughter from the second film, Ali (Molly Ephraim), as well as the videotapes that documented the events of the third film, all make important cameos. These hints combine with the last big cameo, Katie (Katie Featherston) — the infamous female character from the first film — and provide an ending that is so unexpected that it is ridiculous.
It would have been preferable if “The Marked Ones” was just a separate spin-off rather than a sequel. It would have felt less cheesy and forced if they didn’t end the film trying to connect the whole series. If fans of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise were hoping to get closure from this film, they will be sorely disappointed. It will take another 10 films to get to the bottom of this never-ending well of questions.
Rating: 2.5 stars