The only thing worse than a found-footage movie is a sequel to a found-footage movie that strays from the formula that defined the others. It didn’t work with Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2, and it certainly fails with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. For better or worse, the previous four films in this series had a similar presentation and got incrementally better and more interesting over the years. You at least knew what you were getting when you went into the theater. I expected more of the same here with a different setting and characters, and instead, it goes in a different direction entirely and, even worse, has no frightening moments at all. I would hope that this film puts a nail into the coffin of the series, but something tells me that there will be another sequel in a year or so. Well, I suffered through this piece of crap so that you don’t have to. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones should be marked with “stay away.”
For those of you unfamiliar with the Paranormal Activity series, it really all began as a fluke with the low-low-budget horror film original in which a couple started experiencing paranormal phenomena and set up a video camera in their bedroom to capture what was going on. That format worked because you were drawn in with the normal events and then shocked when something weird happened. This conceit carried over to the sequels as different characters were introduced and more impressive special effects were part of the scares because they actually spent some of the outrageous box-office take from the first film to make the others better. I’ll admit that I liked the first one and didn’t mind watching essentially the same film over again with new settings. These movies only work if you let yourself get manipulated by the video images, so hecklers and other movie distractions take you out of the moment. Well, throw most of that experience out the window with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.
Writer/director Christopher Landon (a writer on Paranormal Activity 2, a cowriter of Disturbia and writer/producer on Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity 4) largely does away with the stationary camera viewpoints in the other films. Instead, recent 2012 high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) go around Oxnard, CA, with a video camera and capture the events of the film. The problem with this format is that the video camera must capture the events of the movie, which means a lot of unnatural movements and impossible scenarios like somehow holding a camera with one hand and opening doors and such with the other hand. It just doesn’t make sense. If you’re going to stick with this presentation, at least have one character film another character. In situations like these, it’s probably best to ditch the whole found-footage motif entirely and film it like a traditional movie.
The plot largely feels like Chronicle more than a Paranormal Activity movie. Jesse ends up with a bite mark on his arm and develops superhuman abilities. Hector and Jesse delight in his ability to lean back without falling and throw thugs across a parking lot. This goes on for a while until strange neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval), rumored to be a witch, ends up dead. Hector and Jesse break into the apartment to investigate and find a trapdoor into a basement. Another bitten kid, Oscar (Carlos Pratts), has been hiding out in the basement, and the cops think that he killed Anna. Oscar’s brother Arturo (Richard Cabral) knows that Oscar is somehow innocent and later teams up with Jesse and his friends to investigate. This all happens as Jesse gets stranger, moodier and more sinister. Is he possessed? What do you think? Hector and Marisol try to help Jesse, leading up to a meeting with Ali (Molly Ephraim), a character in Paranormal Activity 2, and a trip to a house where a strange coven hangs out. Ugh.
The previous films were scary at times as they made you jump with cheap scares and strange events in the found footage like levitating kids and unexplained shadows. The mundane footage was effectively contrasted by the supernatural happenings. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is not scary in the least. There’s no tension at all. The characters just run around with a video camera, and I couldn’t find it at all enjoyable. The only possible unsettling moment is shown in its entirety in the trailer and all of the promotion for the film. When Jesse is in Anna’s basement at one point, he pulls back a sheet of plastic to find two little girls in white with blacked-out eyes. It turns out that the girls are characters from Paranormal Activity 3, but you would never guess that from the plot to this film. It certainly makes no sense in connection to the other films. When I saw this movie, audience members laughed rather than jumped or screamed at the supposedly scary events. It’s an epic fail when a horror film unintentionally becomes a comedy.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is only loosely connected to the other films. The aforementioned characters are part of it, and the finale that makes no sense furthers that connection. The promotions for the movie are untruthful and misleading with the traditional test-audience footage taken with night vision cameras as they react to something scary and testimonials from people claiming that this is the best of them all. Really?! What did they see? I saw some kids using an old Simon electronic game as some sort of Ouija board with the green light substituting for Yes and the red light for No. I saw some gang members take on witches in a coven with shotguns. It all comes off as stupid to me. Michael Landon should strike from the grave and haunt his son for creating this nonsense. The poster looks derivative of images for American Horror Story: Asylum, too, and this dreck isn’t worthy of sharing an even passing connection to that wonderful horror series.
Hispanics should be particularly angry with this movie because it’s set in a Hispanic community and plays off some unflattering stereotypes like the thugs and gang members in the film. Ironically, there was a trailer for A Haunted House 2 (a series spoofing the Paranormal Activity films) right before this movie. In it, there’s a joke in which a character protests the stereotype of Mexicans with lowriders only to then drive by in one. It’s pretty bad when a spoof points out one of the failures of the series it lampoons. With this first major release so bad, the year can only get better. What an awful way to start 2014! Thanks, Hollywood!