Paranormal Activity – The Marked Ones
The Paranormal Activity series keeps on trudging on. This is the fifth film in the series in five years. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the first of the series to warrant a subtitle rather than a number, and it is also the first one that seems for much of the running time to be pretty much trying to divorce itself from the storyline of the original film. (Unless you count a Japanese film a few years ago called Paranormal Activity: Tokyo Nights, which was only glancingly attached to the other films.)
In fact, the makers of the series refer to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones as a spin-off rather than a sequel to the series. Word is a film officially called Paranormal Activity 5 (even though it will really technically be PA 6 or 7) will be out this upcoming Halloween. Little tangents about the other films pop up periodically throughout The Marked Ones, though, picking up steam towards the climax, so it can hardly be called a separate entity. In fact, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is pretty much business as usual. And after five films, things are getting pretty watered down.
Oh, sure, they try their best to change things up. For the first time, the Paranormal Activity demons attack an ethnically diverse crowd – a Mexican-American family living in the barrios of Oxnard, California. This time out, there is a haunted apartment building complex rather than a haunted house. The film takes more of a look at the world outside the buildings than in the previous ones, which usually stayed pretty much in one or two settings. There are some little touches of gang violence and The Marked Ones marks the first time that there is nudity in the series (briefly, and non-sexually).
And mostly, for the fourth time in five films, there is a new director behind the vision, though even that was not such a big modification as Christopher Landon had previously worked on the series by writing PA 2 to 4.
The film starts at a high school graduation in which the valedictorian is giving a speech about the importance of change, which feels rather ironic due to The Marked Ones’ somewhat slavish devotion to their formula.
Even with its attempts to spice things up, the whole new film has a been-there/done-that vibe that is tough to shake.
That valedictorian was Oscar (Carlos Pratts), a local boy made good – his older brother was a gang-banger, but Oscar seemed to be getting his life together. That is, until he starts having a series of violent arguments with Ana (Gloria Sandoval), the crazy lady of the apartment complex, who is reputed to be a bruja (witch).
These exchanges were watched and videotaped by local buddies Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), who are friends of Oscars. (For some reason, these demons only seem to attack people who are constantly videoing what is going on around them. Word for the wise: if you don’t want to be haunted, put the fucking camera down!)
When Ana is violently murdered, Jesse and Hector see Oscar running from the scene of the crime. As a lark, they decide to break into Ana’s apartment and see the crime scene.
The whole thing seems to be completely cut off from the previous story, but why was there a video tape in Ana’s apartment of the sisters Katie and Kristie who were the subjects of the first four films? (Not that Jesse and Hector could know this.)
Soon, afterwards Jesse seems to be getting these odd powers. And Oscar turns up in Ana’s apartment, warns Jesse that they have both been cursed, then violently kills himself.
Not a good sign.
Jesse soon finds he can contact the spirits. Instead of communicating with the evil spirits with a Ouija board like in the previous chapters, The Marked Ones makes the odd story-telling choice of using the early electronic game Simon to talk with them. Problem is, the audience – if they are even old enough to know what Simon is – can’t figure out why Jesse would have a Simon to find out that the demons could answer him with it. Jesse says it’s a toy that he’s played with for years, but according to a picture of his late mother shown in the film, she was pregnant with him in 1994. The game, which was originally released in 1978, was outdated, obscure and pretty much off the market long before the kid was born.
Also, through a shrine in Oscar’s room, they find a contact number for Ali (Molly Ephraim), the daughter who survived the haunting in PA 2, who gives them a crash course on Demons for Dummies.
Like PA 4 only touched on the original characters tangentially for much of the running time, PA 5 follows those tangents, eventually somehow ending up stumbling confusingly into the world of the previous chapters. PA 1 stars Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat show up out of the blue to make the connection complete.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones ends up in this odd netherworld where it is trying to be independent of its predecessors while it is also totally beholden to them. This is detrimental to the film in both directions – it can’t bring itself to be a stand-alone film and at the same time, the connections to the earlier movies feel contrived and shoehorned into the plot.
If there is going to be another Paranormal Activity movie after the one coming up in October – which is a somewhat big if, because despite the fact they are dirt cheap to make, their box office numbers have been steadily eroding – perhaps the filmmakers should bite the bullet and really, really start from scratch. Create a new demonic threat separate yet equal to the one they created with the terrific first Paranormal Activity film. Otherwise, they are pretty much just spinning their wheels at this point.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2014 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 8, 2014.