“PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES” (Movie Review)
As a spin-off of sorts, and the latest entry in what’s currently the (possibly waning) horror franchise du jour, there are essentially three things that surprise in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES. Lamentably, none of them are its scare tactics. While undeniably more energetic in its approach—a godsend compared to the tedious fourth film—there still resides the spookhouse formula of a camcorder capturing a) an unforeseen jolt; b) something shadowy someone who wields it doesn’t see; or c) someone being aggressively tossed directly at it. And for what it’s worth, it works. The familiarity of the technique almost effortlessly creates a good time for a packed house.
Of course, those frights are fleeting and slight, none of which leave the lasting impression of say, the oscillating fan-camera in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3, or the bedroom drag of the first film. Maybe THE MARKED ONES’ very final moments are particularly memorable, but not so much due to anything frightening as it is to the absolutely bonkers direction director Christopher Landon is prepared to take this series—and the ending of this film will have an impact on the series as a whole. While billed as a spin-off, it is ultimately inextricably linked to the saga of Katie.
In the collective, possibly delighted, dismay of THE MARKED ONES’ finale is where you will find the third major surprise of the film. The second is the more aggressive, R-rated nature that precedes it. Whether the filmmakers are catering to teenagers who enjoyed the previous pictures, but are old enough to buy that more mature ticket, or horror fans who tend to like their films colored a bit redder, is unclear, but there is a marked change in the air filled with the supposedly requisite “b’s” of horror: boobs and blood. None of it will be much shocking to any casual genre fan—and it does seem to replace any haunting atmosphere—but compared to the series as a whole, it’s entirely noticeable.
The first surprise of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES is its most significant. It lies in its personality-laden leads that make the film the enjoyable fright piece that it is. By now, the idea of even partly defined characters—and that’s essentially what’s going on here—making for a more engaging horror film is clearly understood. Here, enacted, it not only makes THE MARKED ONES a better movie, it reveals something about what could be in store in the future of youth-based American horror. Namely, we can make horror movies without an ensemble of solely white teenagers on vacation, or using the one “ethnic” character to make a trite joke about ethnicity in genre film.
Set in Oxnard, California, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES is concerned with Jesse, a Mexican-American high schooler and his surroundings, which are largely Mexican in nature. Pegged as being aimed at the very large Latino audience in the U.S. even before the film had a release date, there was always the danger THE MARKED ONES would rely on caricature (and plenty of caricature of California Mexican culture exists). Certain expected aspects are present, including side characters with top buttons and gangster attitudes, but they don’t define the atmosphere. They do, however, contribute to a rowdy end set piece.
Instead, Jesse and his best friends Hector and Marisol, who join our lead on the transformative journey, are funny and inviting as they draw deeper into the supernatural phenomena around them. Things start to get out of hand when Jesse and Hector proceed to pry into the life of a downstairs neighbor said to engage in witchcraft. Her ensuing death and Jesse’s physical mutations lead them to investigate the vacated apartment, and even use it at the whims of hormones. Said investigation quite possibly reveals the most about the mythology we’ve seen played out in this series yet, and that aspect feels like a direct response to the last film, which not only lacked in proper scares, but contributed nothing of value really anywhere.
It all leads to the aforementioned, totally out-there concept of an ending, which while surprising and silly, does leave the feeling this series is running in circles. We’re left with two familiar locales, a familiar threat and that serial-like cut to black just when something really interesting happens. So how much longer can this series keep this all up? THE MARKED ONES may have fresh blood, but it runs out fairly quickly.