Very normal activity… a once exciting franchise reaches its lowest point
Director: Christopher Landon; Writer: Christopher Landon; Starring: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez; Running time: 84 minutes; Certification: 15
Last year was the first year since the first Paranormal Activity hit our screens that Paramount hasn’t released a sequel to its enormously popular franchise. To make up for that fact, they’ve decided to release two films this year; the standard Paranormal Activity 5 in October, and this spin-off in a month not generally associated with the genre. I’m one such fan of the first film, so much so that I would cite it as one of the most effective horror films ever made, but even with such a deep love embedded in my horror soul, I still show a certain respect for the sequels.
Paranormal Activity 2 showed us a little more of the story that led to the hauntings of Micah and Katie while utilizing more cameras throughout the house to catch various rooms simultaneously. Paranormal Activity 3 went even further back, to Katie’s childhood, and was the first to introduce the whole coven element to the story which has now become the main focus of the films; The Marked Ones being no exception. While it began to explain things too much (less is more and all that), it found more ways to scare us without the luxury of modern technology, and in my opinion, housed the scariest scene in the entire franchise: Bloody Mary. Then there was Paranormal Activity 4, which was the first actual sequel to the original film, and the first to change family. While there were a few good scares, this is when the franchise finally began to lose steam. In that respect, it owes something a debt to The Marked Ones for suddenly making it look better by comparison.
The grand failing of The Marked Ones is that it seems to forget its origins, and therefore what film it actually is. There’s a distinct lack of any paranormal activity within these modest/merciful 84 minutes, save for a bit of possession and levitation. Early on, Jesse discovers he can fall off a table and not be hurt – caught by some kind of “guardian angel” – and ask a Simon Says game any question and have an answer (one of the better sequences in the film). It doesn’t scare him at first; he and his buddy have a lot of fun with it, but until events finally start to take a more sinister turn it feels like we’re watching Chronicle 2; a young man suddenly wakes up with supernatural powers and records himself doing stupid stuff with his friend. Even when it does finally remember it’s a Paranormal Activity film, it doesn’t really do much about it.
I’m not so cynical as to deny there are moments in The Marked Ones that will raise a hair or two. It does have certain sequences that crank up the creep-o-meter – chief among them the coven – and there are more than a few jumps that might scatter your popcorn, should you choose to buy any. The problem is, The Marked Ones has forgotten why Paranormal Activity was so scary in the first place. It relies on easy jump scares instead of the slow, excruciatingly creepy build-up that Oren Peli did so well. In Paranormal Activity we saw nothing. Not a jot. Zilch. And it was one of the scariest films ever made. It was just a noise, something coming up the stairs, then that eerie feeling of a presence in the room. While the sequels gradually showed a little more each time and introduced new elements to the story, they retained something of that less is more concept, understanding why it was so important. The Marked Ones simply descends into the generic throwing of people around a room while lights smash and furniture spins around. There never has and never will be anything scary about that. Perhaps the most irritating thing about the film is how it explains an unseen (therefore creepy) event of the original.
It’s a problem when an established film franchise changes characters, unless there’s a good story to be told. With such a limited idea, the fact that the sequels retained characters within the same family (Paranormal Activity 4 at least remained close to the original events) gave us something to care about. The Marked Ones not only ditches everyone we know (for the most part), but never even gets close to the point of us caring about them. Jesse’s girl friend, Marisol, seems incidental to much of the plot, only there for something nice to look at, and Jesse and Hector – who does most of the camera work – are frankly just irritating. In the final sequence, as the camera runs around hiding in cupboards, the remark “I wish he would just die” is never far from the lips.
It appears that my love affair with this franchise is finally over. The Marked Ones has moments of quality, but for the most part it fails to be either scary or interesting. Fans can still tentatively look forward to Paranormal Activity 5, but if this is any indication as to where the franchise is heading, there’s no cause for excitement.