PARANORMAL ACTIVITIES: THE MARKED ONES (2013)
(Written and Directed by Christopher Landon)
(Starring Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz and Gabrielle Walsh)
Plot: Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) starts showing signs of being possessed when a suspicious neighbor dies under mysterious circumstances.
“Paranormal Activity 4” had a lukewarm box office run compared to its predecessors, but that paled in comparison to the cold reception it got amongst the fans. It didn’t matter whether you were a fan or detractor of the franchise, it was as if the universe suddenly held hands, sang cheesy wholesome tunes, talked of love and gang raped the movie before devouring it alive- “Cannibal Holocaust” style. Or at least that’s what my friends and I did…The studios knew they had to win us back in order to reclaim the golden bucks, so wisely chose to postpone “Paranormal Activity 5” another year so they could develop better scares. Yet apparently greed consumed them, so they decided to churn out a spin-off sequel, which would confuse me (and presumably others) into thinking that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” was “Paranormal Activity 5“. This franchise has exploited the formula so brutally that it has run out of steam, so the idea of a quick cash grab doing the same thing was more terrifying than “Paranormal Activity” itself. But the final result was…odd. “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is neither the best or the worst of the franchise and will probably be remembered as the most divisive. There is a lot of good and bad within it, but most viewers will probably latch onto the good or bad, making the movie seem much better or worse than it really is. So it’s time to resurrect my the good, the bad and the ugly approach to reviewing, meaning I can break down the film more effectively. Please pay attention to everything I say and not just the final summation, as you won’t be getting the full picture.
The Good– Even though the pacing is still slow as always, the characters themselves are so damn entertaining to watch that I never found myself becoming impatient or bored (a first in this franchise). “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” boasts the most overt sense of humor of any Paranormal Activity flick. Whereas previous protagonists came across as normal- another word for boring- people, these guys get plenty of funny lines and participate in plenty of goofy situations without ever betraying the tone. The cast does a good job, usually selling the drama while also showing off proper comedic timing. But more than anything, Andrew Jacobs (Jesse) and Jorge Diaz (Hector) have great chemistry. I hope “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is a success just because the producers had the decency to hire actual Latino actors to play Latino characters. The only white people who appear usually only stick around for two minutes.
The Bad– The characters can be rather obnoxious, “Hostel” style. You might find yourself hating them because they are noisy, silly and react to the situation at hand very poorly. Since comedy is subjective, I can’t guarantee whether these guys will make you laugh or cringe, so be prepared. I didn’t buy how they would keep sneaking into the (crime scene) room, where the cops apparently are so incompetent that they don’t submit anything as evidence. But what I hated the most about them was how they’d lug the camera around wherever they would go, even when it was grotesquely inappropriate. Hey, let’s just stand there and film your buddy getting his ass kicked! I can understand if they used the camera as a light when exploring dark places, but while you’re in a brightly lit house? When you’re performing an exorcism? While you’re checking in on your ailing friend? While you’re preparing to murder witches? The last one is especially hilarious. I suspect that Toby (the demon) can’t really function unless constantly being filmed. In the first one, the psychic implies that capturing demons on camera will just agitate them and shockingly, Toby becomes stronger throughout the course of the film. The reason why every protagonist has to be stupid and film everything is because Toby can only prey on the few people who would actually do that. At least that’s my theory…
The Ugly– In many ways, you will either like “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” or dislike it based on your thoughts on the characters. Are they funny and likable or annoying and stupid? I’ve heard differing views, but while they could be annoying and stupid, they were the most interesting protagonists that the franchise has currently offered.
The Good– The overarching plot advanced more than it did in “Paranormal Activity 4“. It clarifies a few story threads, such as how Toby is building an army…but for what? That’s still unknown. But the implications sure are creepy and there better be an awesome pay-off. There are some neat cameos, such as the survivor from “Paranormal Activity 2“. The writer introduced some new ideas which hadn’t appeared before, involving a bizarre motive for selling ones soul to Toby. I thought it was kind of stupid at first, but it does show an off-screen moment which occurred during the original, so that was kind of cool. I also like how the protagonists decide to ‘fight’ the cult at the end. We can guess it probably won’t end well, but at least that was something new. The story is still moving forward in inches, but at least it’s moving.
The Bad– Erm, the story is still moving forward in inches. I suppose I should be kind and remind you- and myself- that this is a spin-off and it would be silly to presume there would be any major developments in what is a side project for the franchise. Yet more annoyingly, I felt “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” took some interesting ideas and executed them awkwardly. The ‘motive’ is said using a single line of dialogue early on, then is forgotten until the very end, which confused me when an ‘event’ occurs. It took some time for my to piece that together. The ‘Simon Sez’ bits were unintentionally amusing. Seriously, you know the writer has run out of ideas for having characters establish contact with Toby when a childrens game is the f@cking medium. I didn’t get how a certain character (the cameo) knew everything, down to where the coven was hiding. Maybe that will be explained in “Paranormal Activity 5“. Amidst all of this, Jesse’s descent into madness is rushed because more time is spent on what went down in previous flicks and what presumably is going to go down in subsequent flicks. I thought the story itself was fine, but the ‘story telling’ is pretty clumsy, even more-so than the previous flicks.
The Ugly– While I’m grateful that the filmmakers are adding new and interesting elements to the story, they need to work on telling said story more. “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” seems more interested in the past and future of the franchise than it is in the present.
The Good– The scares have more substance than the previous entries. Whereas before, there were plenty of false frights- a scene would seemingly lead to something terrifying, only for a door to move slightly- these jolts usually have a purpose. There are quite a few boo scares, which admittedly made me jump (even though I knew they were coming). But there is also a subplot involving a guy who is wanted for murder and he pops up in the most unexpected of places. Mysterious old ladies start appearing in the shadows, spooking us. When the film wants to be scary, usually there will be a pay-off of some sort in that scene. There aren’t any moments where the fear is driven by doors moving, pans falling, etc. There aren’t any natural explanations for any of the scares, unless a person is directly involved. “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” also emphasizes the possession angle more than the haunting, whereas its predecessors were usually the opposite. This sounds kind of boring, but possessed Jesse was often pretty spooky. The finale was spectacular, showcasing a creepy house and freaky villains, whose presence are magnified by the impeccable framing. I was concerned that the ending would suck, especially as there are some fake conclusions. I’m convinced the first one was a jab at “The Devil Inside“, since it seemingly ends with a car crash, but it kept going. The actual final scare did make me flinch. It was more effective than the previous two entries, although not as chilling as the first two. I’m glad that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” found a different style of scares, because the previous formula had gotten old.
The Bad– There are some unintentionally funny moments, such as when a gun user meets a knife wielding psychopath. The aforementioned Simon Sez bit becomes even sillier once those ‘interactions’ take a more dramatic turn. I can see many fans becoming irate with “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” discarding the false frights, because while I enjoy making fun of them, they also served to build suspense and atmosphere…which is what made “Paranormal Activity” so popular. My Dad brought up a good point in that the false frights helped establish the identity of the franchise. Without them, this could be any other found footage possession flick. So this might be a case of different not necessarily being a good thing. Perhaps without the slow burn build, the scares will feel hollow to you.
The Ugly– “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is a bit more experimental with its style of scares, focusing more on ‘relevant’ chills, where usually the scary moments will have a pay-off within that scene. I was concerned that it would be the same ole shit that we’ve seen before, but the movie tried some new ways to frighten the audience. While I appreciated this, many viewers might not like the new approach. Many might think it undermines the overarching tension and it might not feel like it belongs in the Paranormal Activity franchise. I was personally cool with it, but I do understand where the other side is coming from.
I find it difficult giving (the closest thing to) an objective review to “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones“. I can’t even just convey my opinions in a normal fashion. My goal as a reviewer has always been to try to help my readers decide whether or not they should check out a movie and whether it’s worth paying money to see. I could argue that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is good and even with its flaws, succeeded in the areas that mattered most- interesting characters and good scares. But you might watch it and disagree with my statements, rendering your entire read pointless I could argue that it’s a bad movie which I just happened to enjoy. I could just say that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is okay, comparable to “Paranormal Activity 3” (which has more high points, but also more low points)- maybe better or worse- but I don’t think your average viewer is going to see that. They are going to pay attention to what they like or dislike, making the feature seem better or worse than it really is. So I’ve tried to present both sides and hopefully you can decide for yourself whether it’s worth a watch. Personally, while there are some problems with it, I dug “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones“. I don’t want to say it’s good. but it’s not ‘the same ole shit with a different title’ like the previous three movies were. I have always felt the problem with the franchise was its feeling of monotony and while “The Marked Ones” might not be good enough to win over detractors, it gave me faith that the franchise might pick itself back up again.
Violence: There is some, but not much.
Nudity: There is a hot naked chick, a not-hot naked chick and some heavy petting.
Overall: “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” is something you’ll either like or dislike. If you are a fan of the franchise, you should give it a look- maybe even at full price. If you had planned to give up on the franchise after the last effortless effort, you should give it a chance (at the absolute least as a rental). If you’re not a fan of the franchise, then either skip it or wait until it’s playing on TV or netflix stream. Everyone will have a different response, but that’s a trademark of “Paranormal Activity“!