Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Directed by: Christopher Landon Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh Running Time: 1 hr 24 mins Rating: R Release Date: January 3, 2013
PLOT: Two young men (Jacobs & Diaz) discover strange things in their neighbor's apartment.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of the Paranormal Activity films, and those looking for a decent start to 2014.
Part of the brilliance in the stupidly lucrative found footage concept is in the amount of excuses it provides. Bad cinematography? Not an issue, as these stories are about GoPro-wielding amateurs, not cinematographers (though a found footage horror movie involving a demon terrorizing the ASC would be grand). Silly editing? By no coincidence this too does not matter especially since camera implemented to document these supernatural shenanigans rarely getting a coming home chapter, nevertheless an epilogue in which their memory cards are placed into the hands of capable editors. In this case, it's not important to this film, a fake collection of fake realistic images, as to how the footage is put together, but simply that the audience knows it was documented - often at nighttime, with a camera that also conveniently doubles as a flashlight.
At this point then, in which aesthetics are mostly a tossup that only thrive on the essential dread-then-bang of a scare, to lower the expectations in logic within the film's experience is a means to make its creativity a non-issue as well. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones embraces this concept in full force, which allows contrivance and character naivete to minimize any importance for the film beyond being an annual fun house, with a striking amount of self-assurance in its shamelessness. The characters of this movie, curious but not enough to take reasonable precaution when stepping into a scary space or witnessing supernatural activity, don't ask many questions about what is going on. They do, however, keep filming.
Especially with its Paranormal Activity reputation preceding it, there are a handful of purely unsettling moments in the film that are not borne from the aforementioned manipulation of the viewer's experience, in which there are some things that should be questioned, but also some that apparently shouldn't be. One in particular involves the setup of a highly hormonal woman sitting alone in a room established to her future midnight partner as the "Don't Go In There" room. Her placement in this location is assuredly contrived, but the follow-through with the scene shows a great misdirection - one in which the audience misleads themselves, expecting movie morality to strike her down, especially with a brutal extended wide shot that simply shows her texting for seconds upon seconds. This, without even having to make a visual connection to Michael Haneke (although I just did!), is a compelling usage of the found footage imagery.
Such a strong moment shows the distinct fault in numerous other wannabe sequences in the film, those which lose the grace of what should be an imperfect documentation, and instead feel as if they are dragging the viewer into situations the way roller coasters jerk around riders with their calculated tracks. Though the movie may be able to create a few uncomfortable moments, it comes with the cheapening price of abusing the trust audiences give to films for believable POVs. It's distracting to watch a movie that is built on being so immersive, and then there's always that nagging feeling that even you wouldn't be that stupid.
Changing the Paranormal Activity perspective from white suburbs to Hispanic friends and family in California, this film is like the The Fast & Furious: Tokyo Drift of the franchise. Thoroughly placed in its location, the film has a refreshing and specific cultural touch, like the lack of subtitles whenever Spanish is spoken. Similarly, other discussions concerning tradition come without explanation, like a cleansing in performed by a grandmother using grocery store eggs.
In terms of what content the film uses to scare its audience, once this installment's evil MacGuffin is established in the first act, the tension feels less of a threat before the audience even knew what to even fear. When the film is only utilizing its initial conflict (which involves one of the young men), it can flat-line moments that are meant to be a different type of intense (such as a goofy rage display in a convenience store). Without its set-ups and the electricity-killing douchiness of the unknown, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is not all that much, even if the filmmakers do boldly try to turn Simon (the light game) into a voice of evil.
Thankfully, the film's third act has a few surges at the end that do ratchet up the ol' heartbeat a bit. As this installment closes itself down, the film parts with a couple of disturbing images that have the right (and searing) amount of unsettling ambiguity. Though, I won't ask how the camera was properly turned off.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10