Despite what producers intended, The Marked Ones doesn’t expand the Paranormal Activity brand. It scrapes the bottom of the franchise’s barrel, begging found-footage audiences for a few extra dollars as it drives the final nail into the coffin of a series that should have died years ago.
The Marked Ones isn’t scary. Isn’t that the only reason you’d bother seeing this? To be drawn to the edge of your seat in fear? It won’t happen. The latest Paranormal Activity can be demonic, as when possessed teenage lead Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) tortures the family dog by levitating him into thin air and pinning him to a bedroom ceiling. It can be economic, as in, “We shot this on a shoestring budget, using hand-held cameras and practical special effects, so as to maximize profit.” And it’s often comical. PA gave me the year’s biggest belly laugh when Latino gangbangers pulled Uzis and a sawed-off shotgun out of their trunk to go fight a coven of witches.
But it’s never scary, and that’s the worst possible thing I can say about this unnecessary offshoot of the once effective Paranormal series.
Until a final – and shockingly stupid – scene, The Marked Ones has absolutely no connection to Katie (Katie Featherston), Micah (Micah Sloat) and the major players of writer-producer Oren Peli’s initial PA exercise. The action shifts to Los Angeles here, where Jesse and Hector (Jorge Diaz) have just graduated high school. They are obsessed with Jesse’s graduation gift – a top-of-the-line video camera – and use it to record everything around them. One day, they begin to hear mysterious noises emanating from the apartment beneath them, where suspected witch Anna (Gloria Sandoval) resides. Before long, Anna is killed, classmate Oscar (Carlos Pratts) is a suspect, and our protagonists are pulled into a mystery involving the first-born sons of women who die during pregnancy.
You know what I haven’t mentioned yet? Any sort of paranormal activity. Loosely directed by Christopher Landon (the way you “direct” any video you upload to YouTube), The Marked Ones concerns itself with witchcraft and cult behaviors instead of spirits that haunt hand-shaking camera holders. The use of grainy, hand-held, POV cinematography is the only link The Marked Ones has to the original Paranormal Activity films… though these overused storytelling devices also connect The Marked Ones to Cloverfield, The Blair Witch Project, the V/H/S films, Chronicle -- hell, are there any movies aimed at teenagers that don’t overdose on first-person POV camera techniques anymore?
The Marked Ones is supposed to represent a new direction for this franchise. Coming out in January and employing a fresh cast, it’s meant to suggest that the premise sustaining the Paranormal Activity movies can be picked up and dropped virtually anywhere. Marked Ones has the opposite effect. With nothing new to say, it kills any franchise momentum and makes me go back and question anything I thought I liked about the first few PA movies. The leads are engaging, and one gimmick using a “Simon” game as a Ouija board proved inventive, but there’s far too much filler laced through this scant, 84-minute effort. If The Marked Ones were an actual YouTube clip, you would click away after 10 minutes.