Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was written and directed by Christopher B. Landon, who also wrote Disturbia (good) and Paranormal Activity 2, 3 and 4 (uh-oh).
Believe it or not, this is the fifth film in the franchise. Five! Can you believe they've made five of these things already? Oddly enough though, this one is not considered part of the Paranormal Activity series. According to the producers it's a "cousin" to the series rather than a straight-up sequel (and there is a link to the original at the end). An actual Paranormal Activity 5 is reportedly being released later this year. Confusing!
I didn't care much for the first Paranormal Activity film, saying way back in 2009 that I thought it was slightly less scary than a basket of kittens. It takes more to frighten me than the terrifying sight of a door slowly opening or finding a set of car keys lying in the middle of the kitchen floor. In fact I didn't even bother to see any of the many, many sequels (until now).
I'm also not a fan of the loathsome "found footage" shooting style used throughout the franchise. It makes the films look amateurish and awful, like they were shot with cheap video equipment (which they no doubt were). The acting is generally terrible, as they use "stars" no one's ever seen or heard of in an effort to convince you you're watching real people.
But the biggest beef I have with the found footage style is that the director always has to bend over backwards to think of reasons why the characters would be filming this crap when they should be running for their lives like a sane person. Just film the damn thing like a regular narrative, please.
But because they cost so little to make, these films are extremely profitable for the studio, so they're never going to go away as long as people keep lining up to see them.
SHAKY CAM SPOILERS, I GUESS.
The Plot: Jesse and Hector are friends who've just graduated high school. Jesse receives a video camera as a graduation gift, and the two begin filming various stunts and events. They even use the camera to spy on their neighbor Anna, who everyone says is a witch. One morning Jesse wakes to find what appear to be bite marks on his arm. He then begins developing super strength and levitating powers as his personality begins to darken. After Anna is killed, Hector and his friend Marisol inspect her abandoned apartment and find occult relics and photos of Jesse and his late mother. They begin to suspect that Jesse is being possessed by a demon. Hector and Marisol track Jesse to a witches' coven and attempt to rescue him from their clutches. Thoughts: • Props to the filmmakers for setting the film in a Latino community this time around. Nice to see spirits and demons don't exclusively haunt white people. • Props again to the filmmakers for trying something a bit different here instead of another tired sequel to the original story. It gave the series a much needed shot in the arm.
• The movie seems to owe more to Chronicle than to any of the previous Paranormal Activity films. Jesse starts developing superpowers (courtesy of the demon possessing him), demonstrates them for the camera, and his personality grows progressively darker just like Andrew Detmer in Chronicle.
• One could argue that Jesse's descent into evil is a metaphor for joining a street gang. I have a feeling that's just a coincidence though and the filmmakers aren't nearly that deep.
• There are lots of winks and nods to the previous films here (that even I could spot, despite the fact I've only seen the first movie). Obviously they're included to justify adding "Paranormal Activity" to the title, since this film has little or nothing to do with the franchise. • I thought it was odd that the film turns the gang-bangers into the heroes. I guess gangs are bad, but witches are worse?
• I mentioned this earlier but I have to bring it up again: whenever I watch one of these found footage movies, I can't help but ask why, oh why oh why are these characters filming all this stuff?
Near the end of the film Hector is trapped in the witch covens' house and is desperately trying to find a way out. He runs from room to room trying to escape, filming away all the while instead of stuffing the goddamned camera into his pocket.
At one point he enters a room and raises the windows, only to find they've been boarded shut. He actually raises the windows with one hand, as he's still holding the camera in the other. What. The. Hell? Maybe, just maybe if he'd dropped the damn camera for five seconds he could have used both hands to punch the boards out of the window.
At least the other Paranormal Activity films used the conceit of multiple security cameras in the characters' home to explain why everything was being filmed. Here they have no such luxury. Hector quite literally never stops filming for a second, even when he's surrounded by witches and fighting for his very survival. It took me right out of the film. A welcome change from the increasingly dull Paranormal Activity formula that's ultimately marred by the dreaded found footage style. I give it a C+.