One could bludgeon their readers to death with how horror is an odd genre that runs in cycles, creating endless amounts of sequels, prequels, and spin-offs. That same blood runs in the veins of the Paranormal Activity franchise, and while it may be waning on critics there doesn’t look to be an end to the series any time soon. As for myself, I loathe the films that Paramount/Blumhouse have presented to us because I just find it boring horror. Why teenagers think staring at a room until something happens is “scary” is beyond me, but it is a popular taste that will have to be dealt with for now. However, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is most definitely the best in the series since the first film; though that isn’t saying much.
Having been in this world of looking at rooms for 360 minutes of our lives, someone finally decided to take it another step. Depending on your perception of what the found-footage subgenre entails, The Marked Ones comes back to traditional, hand-held, reactional horror rather than security camera boredom. And not to mention that we get a Chronicle-esque horror story here (you read that right) about three recent high school graduates who come across their deceased downstairs neighbor and her demonological collection. As you can imagine, something happens to our protagonist Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and he begins to experience weird changes, both physical and mental.
That is actually where some of the fun comes in as Jesse’s newfound abilities get him out of some sticky situations. His best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz), who is filming most of the movie, is there more or less for comic relief, but he works in the sense that someone needs to be there to film what we are watching. Some of the best scenes in the film involve these two being morons, and even though you can see the majority of the jokes coming it helps characterize these two with their charisma, which has been a considerable flaw with the franchise up until now. Their female friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) unfortunately comes into the picture only to help with exposition, but she is the most down-to-earth of the three.
If you haven’t found the previous installments frightening there won’t be much of a change here as the formula essentially sticks to its guns. Even with it being hand-held the bulk of the good jolts come from the camera being set down and waiting for something to happen, as most of the scares from this franchise seem to favor. In all reality these aren’t scary, but startling; and if you ask me it is cheap. Which has been my problem from the beginning and it doesn’t change all that much this time around. You need something to make you unnerved and it feels like The Marked Ones wants to do that, but is stalled because of its relationship to the other Paranormal Activity movies. This is somewhat of a step forward with technicalities, but I wouldn’t say it is scary in any respect of the word.
Not to mention that even within its attempt to be different, the formulaic pacing feels copy and pasted. You get to know the characters a bit, the first night something tries to make you jump, then it continues to escalate before the finale (which in this case has a fair amount of action). Nothing is altered here, and you could literally set your watch to the film’s act structure. Had the formula been even changed to the most minuscule amount it could have continued to have you guessing as to when the next scare might come about, or even what will happen next, but it doesn’t.
Within the mediocrity of the film’s shocks and pacing, mythology is one of the most important aspects of a horror franchise. Dare I say the mythology of the Paranormal Activity movies is well constructed in ways that most can’t get right? Yes. Even with the horrible cliffhanger of the fourth installment, the last 10 minutes of The Marked Ones starts to put the pieces together while still being its own story. The audience will scream their discoveries out loud as things begin to come together, while also bringing up the question if it was all planned out from the beginning. I can’t imagine that it was, but it fits nicely in ways other producers, filmmakers, and writers can not pull together.
Those who love this series are going to run out and see The Marked Ones as soon as possible (if they haven’t already); and as someone who really doesn’t like the four previous films, this spin-off comes in as the second best in a mediocre franchise. However, it would be a lie if I said I wasn’t interested in seeing where the mythology goes, but that is my only interest. There isn’t much to The Marked Ones but it is most definitely “critic proof.” As a franchise that makes ten times what they spend on a single film, I can’t even foresee a conclusion, especially with expecting a sixth movie this October. At least The Marked Ones is somewhat of a step in the right direction. Let’s see if they learn.
The Good: the first ever likable leads, fun bits with Jesse learning his “powers,” and the mythology building continues to work/intrigue.
The Bad: falls on its own tropes, Marisol is only there for exposition.
The Ugly: not very scary, formulaic act structure and scares.