Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Let me just say that I’m a fan of not only the "Paranormal Activity" films, but found footage movies in general. I don’t know what it is about them, but despite the tricks we are all now accustomed to and the nauseating hand-held camera work, I still find them to be a visceral thrill. (I can even admit to watching a looooooow budget P.A. rip-off called "Paranormal Entity" on Netflix. Despite it being shoddy in many ways, it freaked me out enough that I had bad dreams.)
That said, I wasn’t totally thrilled with the last installment. While I found it kind of amusing and still entertaining, the lack of real scares and the redundant ending (which simply mimicked the ending in Part 3) didn’t win me over. So I was nervous for this detour into a latino spin-off called "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones." But color me madras red because the fifth installment in the franchise is a very funny and oftentimes compelling addition to the series.
Taking place in Southern California, the story focuses on Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who has just graduated high school. He and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) start using a video camera he received for graduation by filming everything - including the crazy lady that lives below him. Prone to hearing strange sounds coming from her apartment, they accidentally record an apparent ritual involving a young naked woman having a symbol painted on her stomach.
After witnessing the event, they enlist the help of their friend Marisol (Gabreille Walsh) in determining if something is going on with the crazy lady. When they convince a neighborhood kid to harass the woman, she puts a hex on Jesse. But it is not until she is killed in her apartment that they realize she might have been involved in some sort of cult that has now started to alter Jesse’s behavior. (And apparently his strength which becomes superhuman.)
As Jesse’s behavior becomes stranger and bites appear on his arm and weird hairs are being pulled out of his face, the three try to figure out what is behind it all. One thing is clear, however: Jesse is showing signs of possession and they need to put a stop to it before he hurts someone.
This edition of the franchise is certainly not as viscerally or psychologically scary as parts 1-3, but it does have a healthy dose of humor, mostly coming from the likeable and natural leads. Setting the film in a Hispanic neighborhood is a nice change for the series, yet the filmmakers still allow the story to intertwine with the other chapters, and cleverly so. The final few minutes of the film are incredibly sly and bring the series full circle, although by doing this they avoid really continuing the mythology which, at this point, desperately needs to start expanding in order to keep our interest if the series continues.
But to his credit, writer/director Christopher Landon (who wrote installments 2-4) makes some nice choices in changing up the usual paranormal shenanigans. For example, one of the best twists is the use of the electronic memory game "Simon" as a spontaneous Ouija Board. (Although their lack of fear that a spirit is actually talking to them kind of a bother.) But it’s a cool concept and lessens the boredom that could have occurred by seeing yet another séance-type set-up that is the go-to sequence in horror films.
If you’re expecting to be completely freaked out, know that the movie isn’t really that scary. But at this point it’s almost impossible to do. The audience knows the tricks. They get the hi-jinks of the filmmakers whose go-to sequence is to set up a static shot and make you wait in terror for 45 seconds until something (or nothing) happens. Which is the only reason the 4th installment worked when it did. Because it played on the audiences expectations and repeatedly messed with them. (Basically, every time you thought something was going to happen, nothing did. Which was hilariously clever, because it kept happening over and over).
Here, Landon doesn’t play up the horror as much as he builds the suspense of the mystery surrounding Jesse’s predicament. While I wasn’t all that scared (there are some suspenseful bits here and there for sure), I was intrigued by the story and it kept me wondering where they were going with it. While it may leave you with more questions than it does answers, the smart final moments make you look at one of the earlier films in a different light.