The first film of 2014 - Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones - doesn't possess us in the least.
Back in 2007, the Paranormal Activity franchise was riding high. Cashing in on the formula that made The Blair Witch Project such a stunning success, Paramount showed bold flexibility in turning a small production into box office gold. The idea of hand-cam movies in horror is a brilliant concept, with many films failing desperately to mimic them. But since 2007, this franchise has looked like a shadow of its former self, and three films later, Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones utterly fails to possess us or even keep our attention.
This spin-off shares the story of a recent high school Latino graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) as they play around with Hector's new video camera, documenting their lives in the barrio. They get chased by local thugs, ride down the stairs in a laundry basket at Jesse's dingy parent's apartment, and delve into every Latino stereotype including chugging tequilla and playing with Jesse's chihuahua and listening to his Catholic grandmother. After their shut-in neighbor is murdered by the school's upstanding valedictorian, Jesse and Hector delve deeper into the victim’s past, learning about her ties to witchcraft. Soon after, a circular mark appears on Jesse’s arm, and he's endowed with seemingly cool new powers, like super-strength and the ability to levitate. But there comes a price for such gifts, and soon Jesse begins to change, leading Hector and their friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) on a fateful hunt for answers.
In an effort to pull their best Marvel rabbit out of the hat, longtime Writer/Director Christopher Landon has tied this spin-off to the first two Paranormal flicks, including cameos by Part 2 actors Molly Ephraim and others. It works to varying degrees, perhaps encouraging newcomers to check out the previous films, something we'd advise against. We also like the possessed Simon electronic memory game that starts acting like a Ouija board for Jesse, but beyond that there isn't much else here of value. Rather than using the 'found footage' genre as a way to incite terror throughout the film, Landon bores us with too much character development in the first two acts and not enough scariness. When things finally get ramped up in the third act, we're left with armed Latinos bearing shotguns and Mac10's as they take on the witches ala From Dusk Till Dawn. No, I'm not kidding. Just like Jesse's wizardry, Landon's production gets away from him by making too many assumptions about his audience's supposed lack of creativity and intelligence. The puzzle which Jesse and Hector put together make them like sleuths who are clearly over their heads and pretty unintelligent in their reckless abandonment, something which audiences would never do even on their dumbest day.
Only when things begin to escalate does The Marked Ones become anywhere near entertaining, but by then it treads on familiar territory. We liked the terror and shocks of the third act, but we've also seen them before, with the jerky hand-cam making us more dizzy that truly scared. If Landon's plan is to somehow fuse these films into an army of witches descending upon America (a fact introduced here), it will need to up the terror and give us a sense that it actually wants to scare people, not bore them to death. This is the only way that Paranormal Activity The Marked Ones survives and takes the innovation in a genre that's really just more of the same.
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