Film Review: ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’

'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' Review:

Pleasantly disposable 'Paranormal Activity' spinoff invests the found-footage horror franchise with some welcome diversity and humor.

It would be a wild exaggeration to suggest that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” breathes new life into the increasingly fumes-fueled found-footage horror subgenre, but it certainly represents a shot in the arm for this series after 2012’s poorly regarded “Paranormal Activity 4.” Functioning more as a mythology-expanding spinoff than a proper sequel, this fifth installment (the first directed by longtime series writer Christopher Landon) smartly moves the setting away from airy suburbs to overcrowded working-class apartments, and introduces a winning sense of humor that almost compensates for its relentless reliance on every terror trope in the book. A pleasantly disposable slice of off-season chiller product, this Paramount release should easily win the weekend’s box-office race.

At this point, the conventions and limitations of the found-footage horror film are almost as well worn and cliched as those of horror pics at large: “Put down the camera, stupid!” has now probably been shouted at just as many screens as “Don’t go down into the basement!” (Look for “Tilt your viewfinder 20 degrees to the left!” to finally supplant “Look out behind you!” within the present decade.) Appropriately, the hapless heroes of “The Marked Ones” never put down the camera even as they venture into dark basements, or struggle to start a stalled car, or split up in the middle of a haunted mansion — and it’s to the credit of the film’s primary cast that these bits of genre-appropriate stupidity generate more laughs than groans.

Kicking off with a high-school graduation, “The Marked Ones” centers on likably lunkheaded teenage buddies Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), as well as Jesse’s tag-along relative Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). Set in gritty Oxnard, Calif., the film boasts an almost entirely Latino cast of characters — a welcome gesture toward a huge filmgoing demographic that rarely gets to see itself onscreen — while smart casting and production design help capture the flavor of the environs with only moderate deployment of cultural stereotypes.

Seemingly possessing no greater postgrad ambitions than milling around and attempting “Jackass” stunts with their omnipresent video camera, Jesse and Hector harass Jesse’s abuela (Renee Victor), smoke pot, play basketball, occasionally run afoul of some local gangsters, draw penises on one another’s faces, and generally bust each other’s balls for a decent chunk of the film. Fortunately, Jacobs and Diaz boast an easy “Beavis and Butt-head”-esque chemistry throughout, making for pleasant company as the audience waits for the inevitable horrors to befall them.

The first complication comes from Jesse’s elderly downstairs neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), whose reclusive behavior is strange enough for Hector to postulate that “maybe the bitch is a bruja.” The two attempt to spy on her by lowering a camera down through a ventilation shaft, where they witness Anna scrawling arcane symbols on the belly of a nude younger woman. Being teenage boys, they’re far too intrigued by the boobs on display to fret over the obvious occult ritual taking place, but when Anna is subsequently murdered, they decide to attempt some amateur late-night sleuthing, with predictably unpleasant results.

While the film hardly plays it coy about where this is all heading, it doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get there, and it springs a number of smart ideas along the way. Replacing the typical Ouija board with a haunted Simon game is sure to provoke howls of laughter from those in the appropriate age bracket, and the idea that a victim of demonic possession would rush to YouTube to show off his gnarly new abilities — and be promptly torn to shreds by comment-section trolls — is sadly in keeping with the times.

The haunted-house setpieces provide reliable doses of jolts, even if one can see the scaffolding of each scare being built from miles away, and director Landon has fun with some clever camera placement here and there. A very meta twist ending promises to either open up new narrative possibilities, or else push the franchise deep into a self-referential rabbit hole, when “Paranormal Activity 5” arrives later in the year.

Film Review: 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones'

Reviewed at Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, Jan. 2, 2014. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 84 MIN.

Production

A Paramount release and presentation of a Blumhouse, Solana Films, Room 101 production. Produced by Jason Blum, Oren Peli. Executive producer, Steven Schneider.

Crew

Directed, written by Christopher Landon, based on the film “Paranormal Activity” by Oren Peli. Camera (color), Gonzalo Amat; editor, Gregory Plotkin; production designer, Nathan Amondson;  set decorators, Teresa Visinare, Julie Ochipinti; costume designer, Marylou Lim; sound (Dolby Digital/Datasat), Walter Anderson, Ed Novick, Steve Nelson; re-recording mixers, Joe Dzuban, Daniel J. Leahy; visual effects supervisor, Woei Hsi Lee; visual effects, Atomic Fiction; special effects coordinator, Mark Gullesserian; stunt coordinators, David Rowden, Charlie Croughwell; assistant directors, Mark Anthony Little, Dale Stern; casting, Carla Hool.

With

Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, David Saucedo, Gloria Sandoval, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, Juan Vasquez.

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  1. Best paranormal activity yet a fantastic ride and i hope paranormal activity 5 will be good as this one but really the marked ones is much better than PA1

    Let’s watch this movie, I watch this movie here:
    bit [.] ly/1gAkgjg

    Don’t worry, this is not a survey.

  2. abbie says:

    Me my partner bro and sis in law have been to watch all the paranormal activity films and followed the Facebook and twitter thing ,and all i can say is it making our minds work overtime lol ,the marked ones was ok and leaves you guessing even more after seeing the ending ,lets hope 5 answers everything.

  3. bbj says:

    I liked the movie, it has both hilarious and pop-up scary scenes. If your hispanic and know spanish you will understand a lil bit better. The only thing bad is probably when the movie ends you will get dizzy and might throwup since there is alot movement from the camera. There is stuff that doesnt make sense towards the end but if u pay attention it almost adds up

  4. Reblogged this on HORROR BOOM and commented:
    We’re on the fence about this… there’s not as much of a marketing push as usual (whether they call it a ‘spin-off’ or not) but Uncle Creepy from Dread Central gave it a rave review (which you can read here). It’s not getting very good reviews in general, though, and it’s coming out in January… arrrgh. We’ll wait to see what more reviewers we trust have to say about Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones before we decide whether to see it on DVD or in the theater. If you’ve seen it, we’d love to hear you sound off below…

  5. The Dank says:

    This movie was an hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back. Don’t go! And I LOVE horror movies, even “B” movies. At least at home you can turn it off.

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