Back in 2007, Paranormal Activity took the world by storm and made audiences everywhere scream and nearly jump out of their seats. The paranormal themes, intense storytelling and found-footage style made for a perfect storm for horror fans – a type of movie that hadn’t been seen since the Blair Witch Project. Since then the franchise has gotten bigger and spun off numerous sequels. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the first spin-off from the franchise’s main narrative, and while it keeps with the found footage style of storytelling, the heart, soul and terror just isn’t there anymore.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones follows the story of a recent high school graduate, Jesse and his buddy Hector. Jesse unknowingly has been marked for posession by a demon, and after being bestowed with amazing powers and abilities (like super strength) slowly falls further and further into darkness.
The story of The Marked Ones happens concurrently to the other events in the series, and has several tie in moments to the other films. Some of these seem superflous though and are implemented as nothing more than fan service. However, the film’s final scene ties it in with the original Paranormal Activity in a very cool way. If you are a fan that has watched all four movies prior then you will get a kick out of the small inclusion and allusions, but if you aren’t then be prepared for seemingly out of place conversations with characters that only exist for a brief seconds as an almost deus ex machina technique to explain the situation.
Since we see the transformation of Jesse from beginning to end, we get a unique look at how the demon posesses his victims. We also get a lot of footage that isn’t horror related at all. The balance of the movie feels way off. Instead of a little bit of an introduction followed by strong horror themes, a good portion of the film’s already short runtime (a little over 1 hour, 20 minutes) is us being introduced to the three main characters, and watching them clown around. For the most part, none of the beginning footage is even relevant to the overall plot. The massive downside to this is the fact that the “Scary” parts towards the end of the movie are rushed through and watered down, offering little to no actual scares.
Another problem with the balance of the movie is that it leaves no time to build up tension. We get a few snippets of ominous warnings in the beginning, but nothing actually horrifying happens until the last third of the movie, when Jesse has almost completely succumb to the demon. Due to this, The Marked Ones relies a lot on jump-scares and cheap screams to frighten you. Don’t get me wrong, there are more than a few actual scary moments – like seeing a witch’s silhouette in the back of a room, but these are few and far between.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones has a major plot problem, and it is one that is inherent to the type of found-footage approach that they chose to go with; it often doesn’t make sense for the characters to have their camera on them. Heading to a gangster party – better take my expensive video camera. Breaking into a house in the middle of the night – yeah better record every moment. My car was T-boned and my friend taken away in the back, better grab the camera as I run into the street screaming. It is necessary to keep the plot even remotely consistent, but doesn’t make any logical sense.
The Paranormal Activity franchise is infamous for its use of the found-footage cinematic style. While previous installments implemented this through use of CCTV Cameras statically recording the events as they occur, The Marked Ones takes a different approach. Jesse and Hector carry their camera around with them, so you get a much more in-the-moment feel to the events. Sadly, this takes away a lot of what initially captured and enamored people with the franchise to begin with.
One thing that can be said though is that the camera that Jesse and Hector use is a much, and I do mean much higher quality than what Katie and Micah had set up around their house. This means that the “found footage” that is used for the entirety of the movie is much clearer, crisper and very different to the previous installments. This has both its pros and its cons.
The demon makes arguably a greater impact here than in any previous movies, and through the course of the film we see Jesse slowly succumb to his wills. This brings with it physical changes for him, like his eyes becoming sunken and darker, his posture and even the tone of his skin changing. The practical effects that are used here are really impressive and do capture the essence of his transformation.
As Jesse is slowly but surely falling prey to the demon, he begins exhibiting a wide array of supernatural abilities (which also grow more powerful through the movie). Although most of these end up looking childish and silly – like him blowing up an air mattress in one breath or being suspended in mid-air. There is also a scene at the end where the world begins to warp and it just looks like someone was messing around with Photoshop. A lot of the silliness of these visuals can be tied back to the choice of camera. In the originals, the footage was grainy and filled with static which not only helped to set the mood, but also obscure some of the details.
This is the most dialogue intensive Paranormal Activity film, and it feels much more like a typical movie that needs the characters to sell the story (instead of the story practically selling itself). Luckily for the most part the cast do a better than average job. Even though they are frequently running or acting terrified, their voices are always clear and easy to understand. The fact that the movie doesn’t use music adds to the tension (what little there is of it) and helps make it feel more grounded and real.
The Marked Ones is a movie that was aimed at a Latino demographic, and as such some sections of dialogue are in Spanish. While this again adds for a sense of realism, it takes away from the overall enjoyment in the movie; unless you actually understand the language. Some of the characters, like Jesse’s grandmother speak exclusively in Spanish so most of her dialogue goes completely unknown. However, like they say – communication is only 30% verbal, and in this instance you are able to get a relatively good idea of what is being said even without knowing the language. Still, it would be nice to actually understand the movie you are watching.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones offers a different take on the mythos of the Paranormal Activity Universe but doesn’t do much to further the franchise and while a different use of found footage is a nice change of pace, it just ends up offering more problems than it managers to solve. The movie’s biggest problem however is the fact that it feels off-paced and frankly not very scary. A moderately enjoable film but definitely not one to lose sleep over.
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