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Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones – Refreshing Franchise Spin-Off

By Ural Garrett · January 4, 2014

Stylistically, found footage cinematography has almost become as synonymous with contemporary horror as zombies and torture porn. One of the genre’s biggest beneficiaries post-Blair Witch Project was 2009’s Paranormal Activity. Eventually becoming one of the most profitable films ever, it spawned three sequels normally released around Halloween. Subsequent follow-ups became successful enough to go blow-for-blow against then yearly fright-flick champion Saw. Like many horror sequels however, quality and creativity suffered with each installment. Missing last year’s Halloween season, the series makes a surprisingly fresh return in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. More of an offshoot than sequel, numerous clever touches sufficiently reinvigorate a series many simply abandoned due to staleness.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones heaves middle-class suburban homes aside for an apartment in Oxnard, California’s predominantly Latino neighborhood. This setting alone delivers a grounded feeling not truly utilized since the original thanks to Christopher B. Landon’s very straightforward direction. Retaining the series’ trademark of casting relatively unknowns, Andrew Jacobs portrays Jesse, a recent high-school graduate slowly being possessed by a demonic entity after investigating the death of a downstairs neighbor who also happened to have had a questionable black magic obsession. Contrasting series regulars like Katie (who makes a small yet effective cameo appearance), Jesse at first actual relishes his powers before things turn sinister. That means getting the upper hand on a few bully Cholos, uploading YouTube videos of himself floating and hilariously using iconic electronic memory game Simon as a new-age Ouija board. There’s a level of self-awareness that just works at times. Most of the film’s comedic charm comes from Jesse’s best friend Hector (given life by Jorge Diaz).

But is it scary?

Those familiar with the series’ scare tactics know exactly what to expect outside of the film’s fairly tense final moments. The cognizant humor mentioned above unfortunately takes away any terror built at times during Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones 84-minute runtime. Thankfully, that sense of quiet dread never decimates.

Much has been made about the film’s targeting of the Latino market and delightfully, nothing feels forced or stereotypical. Even scenes that could have potentially gone into offensive territory have a context narratively. In an interesting touch, there aren’t any subtitles when characters speak Spanish. Outside of making everything feel more realistic, those who can understand the language are in for quite a few inventive in-jokes. Notably, the film’s success may open the door for more leading Latino roles and centered stories, something that’s been a long time coming.

A fun and refreshing take on a stagnant franchise, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a much needed turning point. Though true frights are few and far between, there’s plenty of fun and just enough scares until the inevitable sequel is released. On the surface, there’s a level of fan-service for those who have followed the series since the beginning. Those who have sat out on the franchise until now should find this entry partially amusing nonetheless.