Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Christopher Landon
Stars: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gloria Sandoval, Gabrielle Walsh, Renee Victor, Molly Ephraim.
The whole Paranormal Activity franchise has been a licence to print money. The films are shot on a shoestring budget with no name actors, but they make an absolute fortune at the box office. So it’s no wonder that producer Oren Peli keeps returning to the well again and again.
The original film in 2007 effectively mined the found footage genre as most of its supernatural happenings were caught supposedly on home security and CCTV footage. Since then though the series has evolved under the auspices of writer Christopher Landon (the son of the late Bonanza and Little House On The Prairie star Michael Landon), and it has grown more sophisticated while retaining its low budget aesthetics.
But for the fifth film in the series, Landon, who also takes over directorial duties, taps into the Blair Witch Project style of filmmaking, with lots of hand held cameras, and frenetic, jerky and nausea inducing camera work. And Landon uses the usual cinematic tricks that have become familiar to the franchise – jumpcuts, murky lighting, and sppoky things that happen at the periphery of the frame.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is set amongst the Latino community of the Californian town of Oxnard, and it allows Landon to work in many of their cultural beliefs and superstitions, which at least adds a different dynamic to the familiar formula.
Here the central premise is that we follow Jesse (Andrew Jacobs, in his film debut) and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) as they set out to film their lives after graduating from high school. The pair live in a small apartment block. At first the pair are happy enough to film themselves engaging in some risky Jackass style stunts, filming their endeavours. But when the crotchety old woman (Gloria Sandoval) who lives in the downstairs apartment is brutally murdered by a fellow student in a rage, the pair decide to investigate further.
Armed with their trusty camcorder they enter her apartment and uncover some dark secrets about the mysterious old woman whom many believed to be a witch. They discover a box full of old VHS tapes, which initially suggested that the film may be a variation of the horror anthology V/H/S. They also discover surgical tools and other unsettling hints of weird occult rituals and evidence that indeed something sinister was going on here. Cue lots of inexplicable spooky events and some manufactured shocks that proved effective with some members of the preview audience.
But things get decidedly weird when Jesse develops superhuman powers and seems to become demonically possessed. Jorge and his sister Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh in her feature film debut) seek help from Ali (Molly Ephraim), an expert in psychic phenomenon, who warns that Jesse is in danger from a coven of witches, and it is obvious that he is not the only teenage boy who has fallen under their spell. Jesse’s grandmother (Renee Victor) also tries some of her own homemade remedies to try and combat the evil spell, and they even try to seek answers from an old Milton Bradley mechanical ouija board.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a fairly predictable tale of demonic possession and supernatural happenings, and it follows the found footage dynamic. It doesn’t exactly break new ground, although the introduction of a new location and a couple of new and sympathetic characters to follow suggests that the franchise may be looking to inject new blood into a tired formula. It is an improvement on Paranormal Activity 4, although this is damning it with faint prise. Fans of the franchise will be able to make sense of the frantic climax, and recognise where this film fits into the whole Paranormal Activity universe.
But whereas the first Paranormal Activity eschewed credits to effectively fit into the found footage dynamic, subsequent films have listed the cast and special efects technicians, thus destroying the artifice. The Marked Ones is almost a stand alone film, slightly removed from the other films in the series. There was the basis of a good horror story here along the lines of The Conjuring and its ilk, but Landon’s decision to use the point of view approach of the franchise has largely weakened the potential of the material.
The pacing of the film is uneven, although it is laced with some unexpected and welcome touches of humour. There is some good chemistry between Jacobs and Diaz that makes their friendship credible. Marisol is a world class screamer whenever anything even remotely spooky happens, and she is one of the most annoying characters the series has yet produced. As the series moves towards its nasty climax, Landon manages to work in some allusions to the previous mythology of the films in the series, and there are even brief cameos from previous stars of the series including Katie Featherstone and Micah Sloat.
And the film paves the way for another film in the series, which will probably tie up many of the loose ends and tie the previous films together. However, the low box office returns for this one may also mean the death knell for the once lucrative franchise.
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