Looking to capitalize on a largely untapped demographicthat of Latino audiences, one of the most faithful of all horror moviegoing segmentsParamount Pictures has conceived of "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" as an off-shoot of the phenomenally successful, ultra-low-budgeted "Paranormal Activity
" franchise. Christopher Landon, who previously wrote 2010's rock-solid sequel "Paranormal Activity 2
," 2011's craftily frightful 1980s-set "Paranormal Activity 3
," and 2012's turgid, not-so-crafty "Paranormal Activity 4
," takes the helm, and one of his most notable achievements is in neither pandering to nor falling into the caricatured tropes of this underserved community. What is a bit of a letdown is the very decision to not officially include this entry in the central franchise proper when it so bewitchingly threads itself into the mythos and characters that have gone before. There is no reason to not have titled this "Paranormal Activity 5" (which, by the way, is due out in October 2014), signaling the continued marginalization of a minority that had a real chance here to be treated, for once, as an equal in Hollywood.
18-year-old Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has just graduated from his Oxnard, CA high school, the excitement of his impending summer of freedom coinciding with the purchase of best friend Hector's (Jorge Diaz) new digital video camera. Their spying on their downstairs neighbor's mysterious behavior leads to the discovery that Anna (Gloria Sandoval) is involved in cult-like rituals behind closed doors. And then, just like that, she is found horrifically murdered. As inexplicable occurrences begin to swirl around Jessehe finds a weird bite mark on his arm, and begins to communicate with an invisible entity through an electronic "Simon Says" deviceHector and their gal pal, Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), notice his personality quickly altering for the worse. With clues to what's going on lurking in the cellar of Anna's now-desolate apartment, there is no time to spare if they hope to save Jesse from the demonic forces overtaking him.
Less than fifteen months after the pedestrian "Paranormal Activity 4
" let down a great many fans with its lazy storytelling and swampy forward movement, "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" brings a bit of newfound hope to the not-as-fresh-as-it-used-to-be series. Continuing the found-footage conceit of its predecessors, this gritty, blue-collar continuationit's really not a spin-off, but a straight-ahead sequeltidily introduces its charismatic new ensemble of characters (including one very feisty grandmother) before dropping them into a hurricane of fatalistic returns. By now, the scare tactics are on the predictable side, but that doesn't stop writer-director Christopher Landon from cooking up several set-pieces of noteworthy suspense and at least one effective seat-springing jolt. Because the protagonists are so likable, it is easy to get embroiled in the increasingly haywire goings-on with which they are faced. The change in scenery from upper-middle class suburbia is also welcome, giving the film a new angle and vitality.
As well-realized as the characters' culture is depicted, there are some scripting issues. It is never clear who, exactly, the camera-wielding Hector is; he is introduced as a friend, but seems to live with Jesse's family. Furthermore, said family comes and goes with little development; there is a father and older sister, but they are in but two or three scenes with no explanation of their comings and goings. That Hector and Marisol are well aware of the otherworldly things going on around them, but opt not to go to the police, is a stretch, and some of their actions fall on the side of dumb horror victims who rarely seem to make the right decisions when faced with mortal danger. This intermittent frustration, however, subsides in time for a third act that goes down a number of unanticipated avenues both insanely bonkers and thoroughly inventive. Is it a little convoluted? Sure. Does it answer very many of the nagging questions left by the past entries? Not really. What there is, however, is a layer of doom that lurks along the fringes before pouncing, and several callbacks to the earlier pictures that give the story added scope and a deeper cacophonous threat.
"Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" is accomplished and involving enough to buy the series some time, but Paramount Pictures will soon have to start looking to tie up the story's loose ends lest viewers begin to lose their patience. Too much of a good thing, if not handled just right, can eventually grow sour, and this will be the potential hurdle future efforts will have to jump. In the interim, this one isn't quite on par with the first three movies, but certainly a step above the fourth in its creative willingness to think outside the box. Jittery, observant in its humanity, and brooding with atmosphere in the homestretch, "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" goes to places few will be expecting. This, above all, is the main reason it is so easy to overlook the film's rocky construction and a few admitted eyebrow raisers.