Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)
★★ / ★★★★
Ever since the nosedive that is called “Paranormal Activity 3” in which Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman are responsible for, I dreaded yet another installment that was released. The series may be a multimillion-dollar franchise but new ideas that work are desert dry. So, to create a semblance of thought or imagination, the writers tend to “connect” all of the movies during the final act. It comes off desperate and I am offended because the approach is not only lazy, it is an insult to the intelligence. Although I did enjoy “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” written and directed by Christopher Landon, to an extent, it is guilty of committing the same thing.
Having a Mexican-American protagonist and supporting characters is a welcome change. Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends, Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), look and talk like people I know or have grown up with. I even shared their sense of humor and so when the horror elements are not front and center, my attention did not waver. Furthermore, the grandmother (Renee Victor) is a good source of entertainment since the writing has found a way to incorporate superstition with genuinely comedic moments. She is even made fun of for believing in spells, cleanses, and putting up strange things around the house for protection. I looked at the main character’s grandmother and adored her because in some ways I saw my own.
The plot is ordinary but it works. After graduating high school, Jesse uses some of the money he had received from relatives to buy a video camera off a pawn shop. Initially, it is used to record silly things but when Jesse and Hector hear strange noises—moans, whispers, and screams—from the apartment directly below, they put the camera down the vent to see what exactly is going on. It is amusing at first and then it starts to get strange.
I am thankful for the writer-director for not using the awful time lapse technique where a possessed character stands over another’s bed for hours. With the exception of the original picture because the idea is something new, I never thought it was scary or creepy. In the previous films, it used so much that one gets the impression the filmmakers are only filling in the minutes. Here, something is always going on. My heart rate increased just a bit every time Jesse and his friends explore the apartment downstairs.
I wished it had shown less. At some point, the film begins to have elements of Josh Trank’s “Chronicle.” The special and visual effects, though impressive, feel completely detached from the movie. A character starts to get possessed eventually. We see levitation, disappearing acts, a room in ruins in just a blink of an eye.
An angle that might have been worth exploring is the transformation’s slow burn. For instance, William Friedkin’s “The Exorcist” is scary because we get to experience the little girl’s transformation through the mother’s desperation. We feel for the mother’s panic and we fear for her safety. And yet we understand why she must put herself in danger. The possessed is her daughter, after all. A horror picture is most effective when it stimulates the deepest corners of the viewer’s hearts and minds. This franchise lacks that very quality and it is a mystery to me why people think it’s “so scary.”
“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is an improvement over the last two installments and it is arguably the best since the first. However, it is not strong all the way through. The final third is a compilation of uninspired sequences. Gangsters use guns at one point. I laughed at this. And then I knew: The final scene will “connect” somehow to the previous movies. I dare the next filmmakers who will helm the future sequels to detach themselves from the muck.