Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Directed By: Christopher B. Landon

Starring: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Richard Cabral, Carlos Pratts, and Gabrielle Walsh

Happy New Year STMR readers!  Whether you've travelled, visited family and friends, or just watched some good movies, I hope you've had a holiday season full of much-needed rest and relaxation.  As we kick off 2014, we begin things with a horror franchise that was noticeably absent in a banner year for the genre.  While movies like The Purge and The Conjuring rocked the box office in 2013, there was no new Paranormal Activity movie.  Since Paranormal Activity 3 and Paranormal Activity 4 didn't exactly enamor me, I counted my blessings last year.  It appears the pendulum has swung in the opposite direction in 2014 as there are two new movies being released as part of the franchise this year.  However, I was pleasantly surprised by this weekend's spinoff Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.

It's June 2012.  Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) are graduating from high school.  As Jesse commences his next phase in life, there's one cheerleader who is noticeably absent, his mother.  She died giving birth to him.  As it just so happens, Jesse shares this common bond with his fellow graduating classmate Oscar Hernandez (Carlos Pratts).  Their similarities go much deeper than that, however.  Like Oscar, Jesse is a marked one cursed by witches while he was still in the womb.  Like Oscar, Jesse is now being possessed by an evil spirit.  Like Oscar, Jesse will go on a murderous rampage killing quite a few of his friends and loved ones.  When Oscar murders Jesse's neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval), Jesse, Hector, and their friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) begin investigating why Oscar killed the old woman.  Meanwhile, Jesse notices that he has the same inhuman bite mark on his arm as his killer classmate Oscar.  Soon, he begins behaving strangely and demonstrating supernatural abilities as a malevolent spirit begins to take control of him.

I can't say that it's the most original horror movie I've seen in a while.  I can't say that it's the best either.  What I can say is that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones breathes a little life into an aging horror franchise, which is a rare thing achieved by a fifth installment this late into the game.  After seven years full of sequels, things often start to get stale creatively, but The Marked Ones is a somewhat fresh take on the supernatural horror mockumentary.  With some decently crafted thrills and a fairly engaging backstory, director Christopher B. Landon takes us on a twisted journey behind the camera as we watch our lead Jesse transition from an innocent protagonist to a haunting antagonist.

While it's a fresh take on the supernatural horror movie that culminates in some decent frights during the second half of the film, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is marked by two major flaws.  First and foremost, the story is a little muddled.  Putting a fresh spin on the series with a whole new cast of characters requires building quite a bit of context around both the new premise and the new faces.  In doing so, Landon spends more time giving us this context in a detailed fashion instead of focusing on key plot developments.  There‚Äôs more detailed minutiae than storytelling for a good chunk of the movie.  This leads to a rather predictable affair with a dry opening act.  Second, a central catalyst of any of the film's major plot developments is that the characters do stupid things.  They break into murder crime scenes, try to interact with spirits, and call gangsters instead of Ghostbusters.  This is not the way to make a great horror movie.  The best ones are those in which smart protagonists are outsmarted by a smarter antagonist.  Instead, we get a bunch of clueless teenagers that live up to just about every stereotype in the horror movie playbook.

Despite my gripes, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a decent scary film.  Far better than the atrocious Texas Chainsaw 3D which got things started last year, this fifth installment in the supernatural horror franchise proves that there are still some frightful opportunities to explore this genre some more.  Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.  Happy New Year!