Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
If the last couple months of the year are the “prestige season”, when studios trot out their flashiest award-bait films in hopes of luring critical acclaim, then the first couple months of the year are the time when they dump the chum. What better way to kick off the year, then, than with a Paranormal Activity movie.
Kidding aside, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is actually a bit of a side story, getting a subtitle instead of a series numbering. It’s a slight departure in tone, with the most notable shift being that something actually happens. It’s still not my cup of horror tea, but I’ll give credit where it’s due: this is the best Paranormal Activity movie to date.
We also get a change in venue, from largely a single suburban house to a garden apartment building in a barrio in Oxnard. Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has just graduated high school; he and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) are spending the summer like kids do, screwing around in their neighborhood and recording everything with a GoPro. If nothing else, this is the most believable explanation in the entire series of where all this found footage supposedly comes from.
Anyway, downstairs from Jesse’s apartment is Anna, who everyone calls a bruja. They hear weird noises from the connecting ventilation system, but before they can investigate very far she is murdered, seemingly by Oscar (Carlos Pratts), the class valedictorian.
After poking around in the crime scene, Jesse wakes up with a strange mark on his arm, and weird stuff starts happening: he throws a couple gang members trying to pick a fight as if they were rag dolls; he pulls impossible jumps and grinds on his skateboard, and trust falls with an invisible partner; a game of Simon turns into a kind of electronic Ouija board. In a way, it started reminding me a lot of Chronicle, which was kind of unfortunate because that reminded me how pale this imitation is. But hey, at least stuff is happening.
As things start to go from fun to scary, we draw the connection to the mythology of the rest of the series, including a cameo appearance by Ali Rey (Molly Ephraim), the daughter from Paranormal Activity 2. Jesse’s abuela tries to get help from the local botánica, but it’s no match for the powers of the coven — now dubbed the “midwives” — as things build to an explosive battle for Jesse’s soul.
Still, despite more actual stuff happening and some decent action beats, the vast majority of the tension is still unearned. The lighting and sound telegraph that a scare is coming, and then it’s just a game of waiting until something actually does jump out and yell “boo”, possibly wearing a dime-store fright mask. Yes, it gets a jump, but it’s cheap and lazy. It’s horror candy, giving a quick and easy high but no lasting satisfaction.
Worth It: I still say no, but if you like the Paranormal Activity movies in general you’ll probably love this one.
Bechdel Test: fail.