Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
dir. Christopher Landon
Release Date: Jan 03, 14
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones proves that the value of location sometimes can’t be underestimated. The 4.5th installment of the franchise sees it both pandering pretty blatantly to the newly hot-in-Hollywood Latino demographic and actually using that necessity as a jumping-off point to give the series something it’s desperately needed for a few years now: a change of scenery. And even if that switch might be co-opting “local color” rather crassly, The Marked Ones still has an identity in the way many of the franchise’s installments have not. This goes a long way in making it one of the series’ better installments.
During a listless post-high school summer, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) borrows his uncle’s HD camera and starts messing around with it, staging Jackass-style stunts and messing around in his Oxnard, California apartment with his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz). For some time, Jesse has heard strange noises coming from the unit directly below his, and soon the valedictorian of Jesse and Hector’s high school is wanted for the brutal murder of Jesse’s downstairs neighbor. Because this is a Paranormal Activity film, danger and fear and reason don’t initially exist for the boys, and they start investigating the sinister apartment, and eventually bringing girls there for hookups. Not long after their first entry, strange things start happening to Jesse, who at first develops superhero-like strength and before long starts losing all control of it.
For the first time in five films, The Marked Ones actually feels like a movie. Even if it’s a better movie in the first half than it ends up being in the second, it’s still far more cohesive than the series’ typical formula, one which has long made each film feel more like a haunted house than a film. Instead of telegraphing a 90-minute series of jump scares for the audience to giggle and scream at, The Marked Ones takes time to actually get you to care about Jesse a little bit, and it makes a wealth of difference. There’s a casual, lived-in feel to Jacobs and Diaz’s performances that raises the stakes quite a bit in the film’s third act, which continues the strange narrative turn introduced at the end of Paranormal Activity 3 and does well enough in fleshing it out in more detail. If the film gets over-expository at times, it’s something the series needed if it’s going to try and establish a cohesive through-line by its eventual end.
The scares, being the draw for the film, are a lot more effective when they’re centered on Jesse’s slow disintegration than when the little girls with pitch-black eyes start showing up. The film ultimately takes a dive into shock territory in the third act, but at least introduces a few new wrinkles, including Hector’s enlistment of a local gang heavy with ties to the murder case that leads to a too-rare (for the franchise) moment of campy hilarity. And then there’s the film’s ending, another potentially game-changing twist that elevates the running story into truly crazy territory while doing some quality retconning along the way. The Marked Ones isn’t perfect by any stretch, but for the first time in years, it might just leave you wanting another Paranormal Activity. Which is good, because another one is coming in the fall.