There was precisely one moment in the fourth entry in the Paranormal Activity franchise that terrified me. It happened just as the credits hit and I was in such a hurry to get out of the theatre that I dropped my keys. I got down on my hands and knees in a panic. It was the absolute worst.
I just don’t know anymore. As someone who was able to defend the franchise through its third entry it now mystifies me how this franchise is still able to endure off a neverending series of jump scares and first person shaky camera footage. Despite technically being a “sidebar movie” that takes place in the same universe at the franchise (a fifth “proper” PA movie hits theatres this fall), the novelty of other people in a different area going through similar spooks wears off very early.
The Marked Ones takes the still remarkably vague witchcraft story to the barrios of Oxnard, California, where a young man named Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) finds himself living above a creepy murder scene where he and his friend spied on a black magic ritual using a GoPro. One morning he wakes up with a mysterious bite on his arm. He starts growing a lot more powerful, developing a great sense of balance, and starts to get increasingly irritable and creepy, leaving his cameraman best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) and his sister looking for answers.
Very briefly off the top, it’s refreshing to watch long time franchise writer and first time franchise director Christopher Landon dealing with teens who would willing go along with investigating creepy noises and breaking into murder scenes, but that goes away once the film settles into its dreary, done to death groove. Only this time, instead of merely aping previous entries in the franchise Landon seems content to rip off every other found footage flick that’s worked over the past decades (V/H/S, Chronicle, the soon to be released Afflicted, even Project X). It’s not just one movie that audiences have seen before. It’s every movie audiences have seen before. It also botches the good will of the past two entries – which almost openly admitted to being movies instead of some pretence of faux-realism – in favour of a sloppy narrative where for the first time in the final third there is no logical explanation as to why anyone in their right mind would ever be holding the camera.
Still, a few moments of relative silliness make it an easy, but entirely forgettable bit of cinematic jetsam (a possessed Simon game subs for a Ouija board, an ending that almost goes gleefully off the rails before getting boring again). The performances also help, with Jacobs making for a likeable lead and Diaz a particularly sympathetic, almost hangdog best friend who just wants to see his bestie get better. Also of note are Gloria Sandoval (as Jesse’s Spanish speaking grandmother, who walks the line between cool and traditional without seeming like a stereotype) and a really great Richard Cabral as a sage, badass gangbanger who’s the only person who knows what’s going on. He’s so great I almost wish the whole movie turned into a Fright Night rip off with that character and Hector trying to stop a demonic invasion.
Sadly, it’s a franchise film that has to only slightly forward the series agenda without giving too much away for the series to stop being profitable (including introducing the shark jumping classic device of time travel). It’s not terrible, but it isn’t fun anymore. It feels mechanical. Every scare comes exactly where its supposed to come with no deviation. Changing the setting, sex, and ethnicity isn’t enough on its own. This series needs something truly game changing. Or to just, you know, stop.