In December of 2009, I was fortunate to have a friend who liked me enough to invite me to the Paramount premiere Blu-ray party at her house for a small horror film I’d turned her onto (she had entered a contest and lo and behold, she won). That movie was “Paranormal Activity,” and it had swept up thousands upon thousands of horror fans and freaked us right the heck out. That day, I was lucky enough to get to meet the writer/director, Oren Peli, and both stars — Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat — and talk with them about the movie and about horror in general. And partly for that reason, “Paranormal Activity” remains one of my all-time favorites. The other reason: I love a slow-burn horror movie. “Paranormal Activity” sucked me in with nearly imperceptible changes to the situation, freaked me out right alongside the characters, and rewarded me with something big at the end. So, as the franchise sequels continued that slow-burn trend, I’ve continued to be a fan.
Of course, though, even horror fans (I’d argue ESPECIALLY horror fans) suffer from sequel fatigue. The Paranormal Activity films have reached their fifth film, and, unfortunately, it doesn’t measure up to the brilliance of the first two (and, I’d argue, first two-thirds of the third). Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones changes focus from sisters Katie and Kristi and their loved ones (Micah, Hunter, their mom and her boyfriend, etc.), and brings us to Oxnard, CA in June, 2012. Andrew Jacobs plays Jesse, a newly-graduated high school senior who lives with his family in an apartment complex and likes hanging out with his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). He’s well-loved by his grandmother (Renee Victor) and we get to see their wonderful interactions at his graduation party and in the days that follow. As with any other typical apartment complex, there’s an odd lady — Anna (Gloria Sandoval) of whom everyone seems wary. They say Anna is a bruja (Spanish for witch), and Anna certainly perpetuates that stereotype, acting erratically and keeping her windows covered in newspaper. One night, Jesse and Hector use their camera and a heating vent to investigate strange noises coming from Anna’s apartment below them. A ritual is being performed, and the boys are simultaneously intrigued and unnerved, especially when Anna is shot and killed soon after, seemingly by Oscar (Carlos Pratts), a classmate of theirs.
Jesse and Hector break into Anna’s apartment, now a crime scene, to see what’s been happening there. Some discoveries are made in the next few days, both inside Anna’s apartment and elsewhere, and strange things begin to occur to Jesse. It seems he can’t be harmed, as evidenced by various stunts and games they play to test his new abilities. He’s able to fight off attackers at the park one night, and “trust falls” are brought to a new level. Oscar suddenly reappears and warns Jesse of the curse of being “marked;” we learn that Jesse’s mother, who died in childbirth, knew Anna, and we’re led to assume that Jesse was offered up somehow for ritual. Without giving away any of the suspense or hauntings involved in the film, it can safely be said that these rituals (and Anna’s participation in them) connect with the coven of witches introduced in “Paranormal Activity 3.”
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones doesn’t have much of a story to keep you riveted as its predecessors did; minor suspense and the gimmicks of “what’ll the demon do this time?” are the only things that might make this worth a look, but only if you’re a fan of the series who’s kept with every sequel as they’ve been released. This is definitely not a film for someone new to the franchise. It lacks character-development and style, as the devices are nothing new to horror fans who’ve been watching these first-person haunting films for a number of years now. The remnant of novelty from the first film is long lost, and even with nods to that original story, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones doesn’t scare you, doesn’t get under your skin, and really doesn’t stay with you once you’ve left the theater . . . heck, it barely stayed with me for the duration of my walk to the end of the row I was sitting in.
The use of technology has driven the true feel of each Paranormal Activity film — the handheld camera in the original, security cameras in “Paranormal Activity 2,” the handheld, clunky 80’s camera secured to an oscillating fan in “Paranormal Activity 3,” and even the webcam and XBOX Kinect motion-sensors in “Paranormal Activity 4” have kept us in various levels of nail-biting suspense. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones too has its own little techie-gadget gimmick — a Simon game used as a Ouija board. It’s one of the few clever pieces of this movie, as we all remember Simon (and fondly, if I may say so myself), however, it’s nowhere near as effectively used as the technology of the past films. With that loss, there’s not much to raise this film above the plethora of bad first-person point of view haunting flicks running rampant in our Netflix “Suggestions for You” lists. The limited clever points in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones do little to support a rushed, half-baked story. I’ve always said I’d continue to see sequels (however many there may be) as long as they surprise me and keep me in suspense. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough quality surprises in this movie to make it worthwhile. Better stick to the early films in this series for clever filmmaking and great suspenseful scares. You get neither here.