PLOT: Having been marked by an unseen entity, a young Latino named Jesse discovers he has awesome supernatural powers… but he also learns he may be part of a plot hatched by a coven of witches.
REVIEW: Just so you know, here is where I stand on the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY series thus far: I dug PARANORMAL ACTIVITY when it first came out, thought it was an eerie and unique little thriller - but it has no replay value. I hated PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2; an utterly boring, monotonous slog which almost stopped the franchise dead. (And I wouldn't have minded at that point.) Part 3, despite being an unnecessary prequel, brought fresh energy and fun to the films; with several legitimately scary moments, the third installment made me confidant that perhaps there was promise to be found in these movies after all… Until PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 came about and ruined the good times with a go-nowhere storyline and an alarming lack of thrills or chills.
So this has been an uneven bunch of films, to say the least; the found footage gimmick aside, the overarching plot has not exactly been captivating. (Think about it: "Katie" is the series' main villain. Katie.) I can't say I was very excited for THE MARKED ONES, which is both a spinoff and a sequel, but I figured that it was possible we were in the midst of a one-good/one-bad scenario ala the STAR TREK films, which meant the fifth installment was destined to be good. At the very least, it would have to be better than the last one.
The verdict is, it's neither as bad as the worst of the series, nor as good as the best; falling dead in the middle, THE MARKED ONES is an acceptable found footage thriller with a handful of decent jolts and laughs (of all the films it has the most overt sense of humor). It should satisfy those who are still invested in the mysteries of the plot, but for the remaining contingent whose curiosity has just about faded, it might be the last straw. Considering how little this series is willing to divulge in terms of answers and revelations, and how repetitive they all become, how much longer can the producers possibly string us along? (The answer: until we stop paying them to.)
Taking place roughly at the same time as the first film (if I've got it right, that is), THE MARKED ONES is set in a working-class Latino neighborhood and focuses on Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), recently graduated from college and settled into a happy existence living with his grandmother and hanging out with friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). After receiving a camera as a present, Jesse immediately starts using it to spy on his creepy downstairs neighbor Anna, who is rumored to be up to witchy business. Anna has got strange dealings with a classmate of Jesse's, is seen performing a bizarre ritual with a naked woman, so when she winds up dead he (unwisely) begins snooping around her apartment, which is brimming with strange objects and totems… and pictures of Jesse from when he was a baby.
Soon enough, Jesse learns he's been "marked" by the same strange cult that has been hinted at in the last couple of PARANORMAL flicks. With this marking, however, comes an almost superheroic strength; Jesse suddenly finds he can hover at will, lay out any gangbanger who threatens him and control things with his mind. But is it he who actually holds the power, or is he being protected by a guardian angel/devil so that he may become something far more devious?
Aided by likable characters (the film has been well-cast, for the most part), who engage in entertainingly trivial shenanigans in the early going, THE MARKED ONES holds our interest for the first half; when the guys creep around the neighbor's apartment - which has an ominous cellar, of course - there's palpable tension and a couple of well-timed jump-scares. When Jesse discovers his newfound power, the movie takes on a CHRONICLE-esque tone of dangerous juvenile adventure. But when things start going downhill - Jesse becomes more and more reckless and mean-spirited - the film finds itself in a rhythm quite familiar to anyone who has sat through one of these. The shaky cam goes into full effect, the cheap scares and camera tricks are hauled out (someone's there, now they're not, NOW THEY'RE CLOSER!) and when the finale arrives it's just more of the same running and screaming around in the dark.
While the film has angled itself as a spinoff separate from the others, THE MARKED ONES ultimately adds enough references and characters from the previous PA movies that you'll certainly be a bit confused if you haven't seen them all. The last scene in particular requires you to know your PARANORMAL ACTIVITY trivia, although it must be said that this sequence is so utterly bizarre that it ends the film on a note of confounding silliness. None of these films have enjoyed great conclusions, for one reason or another, but this one in particular feels desperately contrived. (It also adds yet another wrinkle to the series' already-overstuffed narrative.)
THE MARKED ONES was written and directed by Christopher Landon, who has become the voice of the franchise; Landon co-wrote PA2 and has been penning the screenplays ever since. As director he's no better or worse than the majority of the people who toil away at this subgenre, but I must say, as writer it's about time he went away. The PARANORMAL ACTIVITY films are beginning to remind me of "Lost"; for every one question answered, several more questions are piled on, and the uncomfortable feeling that this is all going nowhere grows with each installment. I don't require any spoon-feeding, but we're five in now and we're barely closer to understanding who or what these demons and cultists are all about than we were several films ago. And do we care anymore? Hand it to the PA series for being consistent - they're determined to pique our interest with this particular storyline - but I doubt there's a single person in the world who is legitimately on the edge of their seat awaiting the resolution and final confrontation. The pressure is on Landon and company to come up with a mind-blowing denouement, or it will have all been for naught.