Let's assume that if you're reading this that you haven't completely given up on the found-footage format or the ongoing PARANORMAL ACTIVITY storyline, which up to this point has found ways to focus on the present or past tormenting of sisters Katie and Kristi Rey, either separately or together. I'm not giving away whether or not any members of the Rey family show up in this adjacent tale or not, but I like that the people being this series have at least made an attempt to break with a few mainstays and are branching out ever so slightly, with still terrifying results.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES will likely be referred to as the Latino Paranormal Activity (I'm thinking alternate titles like ACTIVIDAD PARANORMAL or perhaps FENÓMENO PARANORMAL) since it's set primarily in a small apartment complex that seems occupied entirely by Latino residents. Unlike the other films in the series, THE MARKED ONES does not make use of security or otherwise fixed cameras as its primary source of footage.
Here, a young man named Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) walks around with his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz), documenting their day-to-day doings, which includes a couple of choice encounters with some strange happenings in one of the other apartment said to be occupied by a woman some jokingly refer to as a witch. But when the woman turns up dead, possibly at the hands of another mutual friend of the boys, naturally the kids with the video camera feel the need to break in and do a little investigating.
When Jesse gets what appears to be a bite mark on his arm, he begins to have wild dreams and his personality begins to become decidedly more aggressive. He even seems to gain pretty cool powers that protect him from all manner of harm. As Hector and their female friend Ali (Molly Ephraim) continue to dig to find out what happened in that creepy apartment and what is going on with Jesse, things get progressively scarier and more dangerous.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon (writer or co-writer of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2-4, as well as the director of BURNING PALMS), THE MARKED ONES adds a much-needed shot in the arm to the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY franchise and big-picture storyline. By freeing up the camera as well as the restrictive confines of the Rey family, the story is given a chance to breathe and expand and let us contemplate the possibility that the singular evil that has been a part of the Rey sisters' lives since they were children might be part of a much bigger universe of nastiness.
Again, trying not to give too much away, but even the place THE MARKED ONES fits in the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY timeline is called into question at one point, with enjoyable results. The fact that both this series and the INSIDIOUS films come from producer Jason Blum left me wondering whether the use of a similar storytelling device here and in INSIDIOUS 2 was a coincidence.
As with all horror films, ultimately the only question that matters is: Is it scary? Without a doubt, THE MARKED ONES has a large number of truly scream-inducing moments. There's an extra layer of creepiness thanks to more overtly religious undertones than any of the other PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films, but again, the changes are much appreciated and, for the most part, improve the quality of the movie. The young actors all do convincing work at playing curious and loyal friends, although Jesse's transformation from nice kid to vicious asshole probably should have been a bit more gradual for us to really feel his torment at turning on his friends against his will.
At the beginning of this review, I referred to this film as "adjacent" to the main PARANORMAL ACTIVITY storyline, which is partially true. There is still an official PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 scheduled for release in October. This film has just enough connective tissue to earn its name without really furthering the story as we know it so far. The end of THE MARKED ONES is about as groan worthy as many of the other PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels have been (the makers have never quite been able to stick their landing the way writer-director Oren Peli did on the first one), but a dopey ending doesn't take away some of the solid work in the rest of the film.
I'm not sure if I'm ready for more of these type of side stories or not in this franchise (let's not turn this into another "AMERICAN PIE Presents…" label), but this film is an interesting experiment that largely succeeds in keeping the scares coming and its story moving. A lot of horror these days can't even get those basic elements right. I'd even go so far as to say, THE MARKED ONES is one of the strongest entires in this series, especially in terms of pacing and creative ways to make us jump in our seats.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES opens this Thursday night, January 2.