Movie Review #750
Directed by Christopher Landon. Written by Christopher Landon. (Based on: the film “Paranormal Activity” by Oren Peli.) Produced by Jason Blum and Oren Peli for Blumhouse Productions, Room 101, and Solana Films, presented by Paramount Pictures. Starring Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, and Gabrielle Walsh. Credited cameos: Jessica Tyler Brown, Chloe Csengery, Katie Featherston, Micah Sloat, and Catherine Toribio. Uncredited cameo: Eddie J. Fernandez. Premiered in Hollywood, California on January 2, 2014. Distributed by Paramount Pictures in wide release on January 3, 2014. Rated R: pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use. Runs 84 minutes. (Unrated version: 101 minutes.)
If you want a feel of how disappointed I was with “Paranormal Activity 4”, I reviewed it last April and as I remember, I blasted it. It was not a horror movie. It was a movie about people who freak out at doorbells and knocks on the door and garage doors opening because they think there’s a ghost there. And that’s supposed to scare us. That movie seemed to be saying “gimmick, gimmick, gimmick” so much, I felt like I was hearing small animal noises. And I wouldn’t be surprised either, because whoever had the nerve to call himself a screenwriter didn’t know jack about horror movies, or the Paranormal Activity movies of which I’m usually a fan. You can go back and read my “Paranormal Activity 4” review, but if I could narrow it down to less than ten words for you, they’d be, “What a waste of $5 million.” (And I know, in terms of producing movies, $5 million is still pretty cheap.)
I don’t think it was here that I lost hope. It was when I learned of a forthcoming “Latino spinoff” from the series that I questioned whether or not I was going to stick around with these movies any longer. I think the whole idea of a “Latino spinoff” seems kind of randomized in terms of this series. I don’t know what was worse: the trailer for this film, the release in January (the Gregorian calendar’s movie dumpster), or a silly title like “The Marked Ones”. But can I just say that I really wish there had been better advertising here? I would have watched it sooner, and I wouldn’t have dreaded it so much. After watching it now, I’m not exactly positive why I was dreading it in the first place.
It’s safe to say that the Paranormal Activity movies are back up on their feet again, and if anything, it’s probably because “The Marked Ones” is not a “Latino spinoff.” The term seems to be based on our assumption that “Paranormal Activity 4” was not a spinoff, as well, because frankly, this fifth entry into the canon turns out to be the most relevant film to the overall plot. By the climax, its goal is to tie up the loose ends of the first film, particularly the ending, which we saw in various forms throughout the series, but never understood clearly.
“The Marked Ones” definitely goes neck-in-neck with “Paranormal Activity 3”. I’ll start off by saying that this doesn’t help the climax very much. I may be wrong, but with every door, hallway, and staircase that I recognized near the end of “The Marked Ones”, it felt like stock footage taken straight from “Paranormal Activity 3”. Then again, it’s not entirely stock footage, because there’s a few surprises here that come and tie up some loose ends. One of them is a bit too deus ex machina, but it’s still neat.
On the other hand, it makes for a more believable experience when the teenagers here, much like the girls in the third entry, see the mysterious presence as entertainment, not as a decided terror. They find a clever way of asking it “yes or no” questions, and things start to shake up a little bit when they decide to ask, “Are you good?” See, this happens about halfway through the film, and it’s a gear-shifter of sorts. The outright scares come afterwards; everything beforehand is brushed with an eerie atmosphere. In other words, the goal is not to offer up cheap scares simply because we’ve paid to see the movie. The goal is to make a horror movie, and to develop a story that makes it a horror movie. The story does tend to drag, and quite a bit at times, but it’s a story, it’s a good story, and it’s better than absolutely nothing. ✴
– Alexander Diminiano