Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
After graduating with the Class of 2012 in Oxnard, California, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) returns home to a party being thrown by his friends and family in the courtyard of their housing complex. Jesse mentions to friend and amateur cameraman Hector (Jorge Diaz) that strange noises have been coming from the space beneath his bedroom. They investigate by lowering a camera down a ventilation shaft and filming his elderly neighbour performing some sort of ritual with another nude woman. When the witch, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), mysteriously dies, and the class valedictorian is linked with her death, Jesse, Hector and cousin Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) decide to explore the crime-scene for answers, shortly after which Jesse begins to show signs of possession.
Technically a spin-off, rather than an addition to the Paranormal Activity franchise proper, The Marked Ones has a completely different feel to it than the previous films in the series. Rather than relying on static surveillance (or camcorders strapped to rotating fans), the film is much more of a traditional found footage film, editing together sequences from a pair of handheld cameras. Though hardly original, this change in format still makes a massive difference, resulting in a film that is more dynamic, energetic and visually interesting.
The recalibrations go way beyond format, however, and an equally large part of The Marked Ones‘ novelty value comes from the change of scenery. Not only are we now able to go outdoors, but when we do we find ourselves in Hispanic California, a world (or at least a few cities) away from suburban San Diego. To begin with, at least, the film feels more like a cross between REC and Chronicle than a straight Paranormal Activity movie; there is real chemistry between Jesse and Hector, and an infectious sense of fun in their pranks, first at graduation and then later as the former begins to manifest his newfangled powers. Katie (Katie Featherston) may be the face of the franchise, but The Marked Ones makes you realise just how badly it was missing a heart. Between them, the due here provide one.
Even when the film shifts gears it maintains a momentum that the other films lack. Oscar (Carols Pratts), the valedictorian, is behind many of the biggest jumps, giving Catherine Toribio’s Penelope the fright of her life when he appears almost out of nowhere. There is also fun to be had with Simon, an electronic game that acts as a conduit for some dangerous demonic force, and Jesse’s grandmother, who seems determined to fight evil with a carton of eggs. Sadly, it all falls apart when director Christopher B. Landon tries to tie it in with the established mythology. An earlier cameo might pass you by unless you’ve watched Paranormal Activity 2 in the last week, but an onslaught of nods and connections during the last act are too intrusive and jarring to miss. The twist is foreshadowed, but it is too frantic to be followed; Paranormal Activity 5 will have a lot of explaining to do.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones boasts a pair of likeable central performances, some solid scares and a surprising number of decent gags. As a departure it works a total treat, establishing new characters and rules with narrative efficiency and good humour. It’s only when it tries to tie itself into the larger story that all Hell breaks loose — both in front of and behind the camera.