MOVIE REVIEW: Latest 'Paranormal Activity' can work on its own merits

by fred Topel CraveOnline - Updated: January 2, 2014 at 9:36 am • Published: January 2, 2014 | 9:30 am 0

"Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones"

Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Molly Ephraim, Richard Cabral

Director: Christopher Landon

Running time: 84 minutes

Rated: R for for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use

Grade: B+

The "Paranormal Activity" franchise truly invoked the support of Franchise Fred. I didn't even like the original. You can point a camera at a girl standing over a bed, but that doesn't make it a movie. However, as soon as you make a sequel to it, that's Franchise Fred territory.

The sequels actually get cleverer, working within the confines of static camera and practical (or at least seamless) in-camera scares, with "Paranormal Activity 3" being the pinnacle. I thought there was still some fun stuff in "Paranormal 4," but "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" isn't "Paranormal Activity 5." That's still coming. This is a spinoff set in a Latin neighborhood featuring a predominantly Latin cast. That was the demographic being courted when the project was announced, but this spinoff is still clearly a "Paranormal Activity" film for everyone.

It is really, really Latin though. There's a salsa party, a grandmother who only speaks Spanish and the protagonists throw around words like "bruja." There is some unsubtitled Spanish language, but nothing too important.

The whole audience will still understand the movie, but Spanish speakers will get a little bit more movie than everyone else.

After their high school graduation is filmed with a new video camera, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) keep playing around with the camera. They have some fun until they catch wind of a creepy neighbor doing some occult ceremonies that lead to a death. One day Jesse wakes up with a bite mark on his arm and super powers. He can beat up the local thugs and float above the ground. They have some fun with that too, but then his changes stop being cute and the neighbor's paranormal activity comes to light. And of course, they keep filming.

This is a distinct twist on the franchise. It's no longer a predominantly static camera, which gives writer/director Christopher Landon different tools to work with, but also makes it more like every other found footage movie.

So the technique of misdirects and jump scares are different than they were in the "Paranormal Activity" houses, and they work. Terrible framing even becomes vital to one of the big scares.

They'll get you, but then do we really need another "running around with a camera" movie? There really is no good reason for Hector to be filming most of the things he's filming, although one moment where he actually does put down the camera to deal with something important is appreciated. In another scene, though, he points the camera at a video monitor. No. Come on. Why would you film the monitor instead of just recording from the monitor feed, or, you know, looking at it with your eyes?

It's also different that we have male protagonists this time. The films in the prime "Paranormal Activity" chronology are all women, whether Katie Featherston, Sprague Grayden, their child actor counterparts or Kathryn Newton. Boys have male interests and male vulnerabilities. Hormonal libido is one, and ego and anger are more prevalent, but all are explored. This is also the first "Paranormal Activity" with nudity, so it's more like Paranormal Racktivity.

"The Marked Ones" has a strong body horror element. Jesse explores his own physical changes with creepy results that will make you squirm, and Jacobs gives a really good performance portraying those changes.

One of the paranormal devices is an old Simon electronic game. This seems pretty silly, a real reach for a Ouija board substitute, but it is effective. It's especially effective when the audience knows what the spirit is going to say before Jesse knows, because we know we're watching a "Paranormal Activity" movie.

I really like the way "The Marked Ones" is connected to Paranormal Activity Prime. There are definitive connections, but they're vague enough that "The Marked Ones" can still exist on its own. That's the precarious franchise trick and it pays off in really satisfying ways in "The Marked Ones."

This is a solid entry in the "Paranormal Activity" phenomenon. It's got good scares, a decent story and more action than the first film.

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