By Chaz Lipp
For some reason, the fifth entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise has been frequently referred to as a spin-off. Maybe it’s because this is the first unnumbered film in the series. Whatever the case, make no mistake: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is most definitely a continuation of the ever-so-slightly expanding storyline initially established in the 2007 original. The Marked Ones continues the “found footage” conceit, this time relying entirely on hand-held video shot by the characters rather than any surveillance or webcam shots. Even those fans of the series who felt that 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4 offered evidence of a stagnating franchise are likely to enjoy the new one.
Christopher B. Landon, who wrote the first three sequels, does double-duty for the first time as both writer and director. The setting has shifted to a Latino community, with the focus on best buddies Hector (Jorge Diaz), Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). Hector spends most of his time behind the video camera, serving as our window into the increasingly creepy goings-on at their apartment complex. There’s a lot of humor and convincing camaraderie between the friends, but things change when their school acquaintance, Oscar (Carlos Pratts), begins showing up randomly – seemingly crazed – at their weird neighbor Anna’s (Gloria Sandoval) apartment.
Credit Landon with bringing some new ideas to the table (new to this particular franchise, at least). While the previous sequels all had something to offer, they were also distinguished by the law of diminishing returns. Once Jesse becomes “infected” with the same curse that afflicted Oscar, he begins experimenting with newfound powers (super strength, the ability to fall backwards and remain hovering) that recall those seen in Chronicle. After Jesse, Hector, and Marisol stumble onto evidence linked to the witches’ coven introduced it the third film, The Marked Ones takes on a greater Blair Witch Project vibe than this series has seen before, for better or worse (the constantly moving, herky-jerky camerawork may prove slightly nauseating for those prone to motion sickness).
Revealing too much about the plot defeats the purpose of any movie in the Paranormal series. Suffice it to say that heavily tattooed Arturo (Richard Cabral), Jesse’s Chihuahua, and a couple cameo appearances by previous cast members all combine to keep things interesting. You can also bet that Jesse and his friends make some incredibly dumb, sometimes implausible, choices in the interest of moving the plot forward (i.e. investigating a trap door at a crime scene, avoiding calling the police or seeking medical attention when anyone in their right mind would do so, etc). Audience members reacted to the cues, whether it was laughing, screaming, or falling silent (relatively speaking for a rambunctious theater of mostly high school-aged kids). In other words, it’s a crowd-pleaser. The limitations of the “found footage” subgenre are, by this point, inescapable. Those with distaste for the unattractive style and often chaotic atmosphere will find nothing in The Marked Ones to change their opinion.
One note on the move to an all-Latino cast: the film skirts, at times, uncomfortably close to exploitative ethnic stereotyping. Bringing diversity to the predominantly white Paranormal franchise was a good idea. Perhaps surrounding the lead characters with so many hard-drinking, weed-smoking, gun-toting associates was a bit counterproductive.