Eye For Film >> Movies >> Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) Film Review
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Reviewed by: David Graham
Taking a break from the Halloween market from which it vanquished the disreputable Saw franchise, Paranormal Activity returns somewhat rejuvenated after the barrel-scraping, schedule-necessitated fourth instalment. The Marked Ones benefits from a change in tone, pace and setting, if not style - retaining the increasingly formulaic found footage format keeps the tension running high but that familiarity also breeds some contempt. With an origin story narrative and tech-savvy misfit characters unflatteringly echoing Chronicle, it’s to the credit of the appealing young cast and returning writer Christopher Landon (now director) that this marks the most well-rounded instalment after series high water-mark Paranormal Activity 2.
Living with his grandma in a working class Latino area of LA, teenager Jesse has just finished high school when he begins to pick up strange vibes from his neighbour in the flat below. It’s not long before Jesse and his bad influence friend Hector are spying on Anna (commonly held to be a witch), recording a bizarre ritual involving a young naked woman. When Anna is murdered, the police suspect one of Jesse’s peers may be the culprit, leading him and Hector to do a little investigating of their own. What they find not only tests their friendship, but Jesse’s sanity, as he realises he may have been chosen to be part of a larger, more sinister plan.
Having scripted all the Paranormal Activities except the original, Landon perhaps couldn’t be blamed for letting his talents go off the boil for the fourth episode, but the change in locale and fresh storyline for this ‘spin-off’ seem to have galvanised him to produce something approaching the series’ best. Perhaps without the pressure of a Halloween slot, the increased budget and shooting schedule allowed him to reach for something both grander in scope and more intimate in terms of its character dynamics, being more or less a teen buddy movie with precious few significant adult roles (which have always proved a stumbling block for the largely inexperienced casts anyway).
Landon’s script is also his most intricate in terms of its underlying socio-political concerns: he’s always paid more attention to realistic middle-class family dysfunction than people appreciate, but here he’s stirred up a sympathetic and authentic-feeling evocation of life for LA’s under-privileged, ethnic minority kids. Not only do these characters have a much stronger sense of community than the families featured before – as evidenced by Jesse’s graduation party and his scene-stealing Grandma’s bond with the youths around her – but the role of religion in their lives feeds into the supernatural activity in a potent way that makes the danger all the more palpable. Because these people already have such strongly-held beliefs in spirits and the afterlife, somehow it becomes easier to suspend disbelief towards both the spectral shenanigans and their responses to them.
For the first half anyway: things take a turn for the preposterous the more Jesse turns towards the dark-side, with all manner of Carrie-esque abilities and the prospect of alternate realms proving a little beyond Landon’s narrative-spinning pail. These elements do add a genuine sense of anything-goes surprise to a universe that’s been treading water since the climax of PA3, and it all ties more overtly into the series timeline than the marketing would have you believe, but Landon’s on similarly shaky ground to James Wan’s experiments with other realms and warped planes with the Insidious saga. It’s not altogether successful, but it’s refreshing to see Landon taking the franchise in new directions.
The previously painful drip-feed of exponentially alarming activity has changed from a trickle to a relative deluge, with this new effort’s paciness coming as a pleasant surprise. There’s a lot of incident packed into its slight run-time - almost too much at points for such paucity – but Landon mostly keeps things coherent and balanced, juggling a sense of gleeful self-discovery with the darker, more ominous moments to keep tension running high. The ambiguity of previous instalments is toned down, with plenty of exposition (again, perhaps too much) fleshing out the mythos and the Hispanic milieu well-served by the grounded depictions of everyone from gangsters to grandparents. There are still plenty of questions to ponder towards the end, but mostly these feel like calculated intrigue rather than the found footage genre’s usual cheap cop-out resolutions. For once, you’ll actually want to know what happens next, and the climax brings the action back into the realm of what’s gone before with nifty invention.
The performances also contribute to the film’s effectiveness, with newcomers Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz nicely evoking a naturally annoying teenager attitude while remaining a likable and believable double act. They’re given solid support from a bevy of Latin lovelies whose roles are unusually well-written despite being somewhat on the sidelines, whether they’re palpably concerned friends or randy adolescent flings. There’s a real sense of a world with its own set of rules, problems and warring factions, which feeds into the negative energy the story deals with.
Landon has grown as a writer in ways that compliment his boldness as a sophomore director – there are some truly memorable set-pieces and plenty of humour in the situations (a retro Simon Says game being used as an impromptu Ouija board is both bonkers and brilliant, continuing his adoption of recognisable technology from the X-Box-aided thrills of the previous film). Even detractors might find themselves enjoying this almost sci-fi tinged outing, which puts to shame the recent Carrie reboot even if it’s not quite as good as Chronicle. With the series back on track, it’ll be interesting to see if the studio demands a rushed release for the next instalment in time for Halloween: hopefully they give Landon and series originator Oren Peli the resources to do the thread-tying ending they’ve hinted at justice.Reviewed on: 16 Jan 2014