Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Christopher Landon
Writer: Christopher Landon
Producer: Jason Blum, Oren Peli
Stars: Jorge Diaz, Andrew Jacobs, Gabrielle Walsh, Richard Cabral, Noemi Gonzalez, Carlos Pratts, Davis Saucedo, Renee Victor
Three teenagers uncover an occult conspiracy as they investigate the connection between a classmate and an old woman rumored to be a witch.
Being completely objective about “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is mildly trickier than it should be. Though the modestly uncertain reaction it inspires is not at all surprising given how uncertain about itself the movie actually is. “The Marked Ones” is a film trying unusually hard to be a jack-of-all-trades, and everyone knows what Jack usually becomes a master of.
When not being dared by his best bud Jesse to ride a laundry basket down a flight of stone steps, Hector occupies his time as a street corner sign spinner. Since their recent high school graduation, the two teens haven’t aspired to do much more than launch bottle rockets next to the dumpster behind Jesse’s apartment building. Until their valedictorian classmate Oscar is seen fleeing the residence of a rumored witch who lives underneath Jesse. With their friend Marisol in tow, Jesse and Hector now embark on an amateur investigation that exposes a coven, a conspiracy, and an unexpected connection to the “Paranormal Activity” mythology.
Aside from an initially slim callback or two, a mind familiar with the franchise might spend acts one and two wondering what “The Marked Ones” has to do with “Paranormal Activity” in the first place. Though this departure from expected form is not necessarily a bad thing.
After four movies of surveillance feeds on a timed loop with intertitle cards identifying meaningless dates and times, “The Marked Ones” takes the haunting out of swank suburban homes and into the barrio for a free-roaming narrative no longer confined to corner-mounted cameras. However, while the formula shakeup keeps it fresh as a “Paranormal Activity” installment, the updated look isn’t anything new for those who follow “found footage” as a subgenre. This makes the mobile perspective idea only the first double-edged sword cutting into the film as doing it a favor at one angle, but knocking it back from another.
Another is the Latino motif. At first, it seems novel to frame the story through a specific culture with a focus on working class characters and concepts that rarely feature at all in horror movies. But it results in a prime example of how “The Marked Ones” forces itself to fit an identity it thinks it should have, rather than the conflicting one at its core.
The Latino elements are laid on thick enough to be parody. Scenes include tequila shots, salsa bowls, tortilla eating, a Chihuahua, and neck-tatted gangbangers wearing XL t-shirts. The only thing missing is a mariachi in a sombrero. It’s like someone listed every Latino-related stereotype s/he could think of, crammed it into the movie, and voila, “The Marked Ones” now qualifies as having an ethnic focus.
With the film fighting so hard to break its own mold, it trades the ghost in the night haunting for superheroic stunts and supernatural action. Once again though, it is a shortsighted gain lacking a long-term impact.
There is no secret about the fact that what made the first “Paranormal Activity” a global phenomenon was its “me too” touchstones that audiences felt while witnessing an unseen presence tugging at bedsheets or slamming a door. “The Marked Ones” impresses with visual antics of gravity defiance and bodies sailing through the air, but the fantasy removes the relatable reality just to drop jaws for an immediate thrill.
“The Marked Ones” paints itself into this corner again when it realizes it isn’t “Paranormal Activity” enough, and introduces a convoluted connection via unnecessary shoehorn as if to rope in a wayward steer before it runs off the ranch. What happens is that the final plot twists give the movie a short-term payoff to please longtime fans, yet it is at the expense of compromising the larger mythology.
What started as an effectively simple haunted house story now involves demonic prophecies, a worldwide coven of witches, superhuman abilities, and even time travel. Things have progressed so far beyond the original vision that the series is now further away from why it connected with fans in the first place.
The movie also suffers from some timing problems that create gaps highlighting the unevenness. In one scene, Jesse and his buddy pick up a pair of lovely young hotties at a party. With his own apartment occupied by grandma, Jesse takes his imminent conquest to the vacant crime scene right downstairs where clothes begin crumpling on the floor. After the girl tells him to “f*ck the sh*t” out of her, Jesse disappears back upstairs to retrieve a condom.
And he is gone for two and a half minutes. Described at the party as having a “Kim Kardashian ass,” this girl is also ridiculously sexy, ready to go, and a horny 18-year-old teen is going to take that kind of time when he only has to run up a dozen steps in the first place? Yeah right. The lengthy sequence is meant to draw out tension, but all it does is draw out the runtime.
A scene near the end stands out similarly when the last batch of characters arrives at the final location and spends over four minutes slowly creeping around the exterior before the first scare finally kicks off the climax. That is just far too long of a lull to sit through with less than ten minutes to go in the movie, when action is supposed to ratchet up instead of down.
By no means is the movie poorly made. Just the opposite, in fact. Yet while mostly holding steady all the way through, “The Marked Ones” does not leave its audience with a lasting impression of having been wowed. Even if it seems initially satisfying as disposable horror entertainment, subsequent franchise installments now have a long run challenge to bring the series back to a sane track of forward-moving progress.
Review Score: 60