Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Sequels, prequels, alternative imaginings… they’re everywhere. When did straight-up sequels become so boring? We now need accompaniments and side-films to ‘bolster’ the original. We’re apparently hungry for them. This can sometimes lead to a bit of confusion with the cinema-going audience: when exactly is this film set? This should be less of an issue when a franchise follows the traditional numbering of 1, 2, 3 etc. You’d naturally expect 2 to follow on from 1, and so on and so forth. But no. There’s something spooky going on with Hollywood’s numbering system right now, primarily driven by the Paranormal Activity series. So with that being said, where does the fifth instalment, which drops the numbering, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, fit in?

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

This really is the question: where does it fit in? The Paranormal Activity franchise has been going for some years now. It began with a fresh take on the found footage format and introduced is to Micah (Micah Sloat) and Katie (Katie Featherston) – the latter of which was haunted / followed by a demon that would later possess her and send her on a killing rampage. Then, in Paranormal Activity 2 we got an immediate prequel about how Katie got the demon onto her, but also finished after the events of 1… in 3 we got an even deeper prequel to 1 and 2 of Katie and her sister being haunted as kids… in 4 we got a sequel to 2 (keeping up here?), which showed Katie and her stolen nephew. So, where does Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones go? And why bother with the change in numbering? For all intents and purposes this is Paranormal Activity 5, although that would then confuse things considering Paranormal Activity 5 will be released later in 2014…

Yes, it’s a confusing mess. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones was hinted at as a post-credits scene in Paranormal Activity 4. Apparently, this series of films is huge in the Hispanic community, so they decided to focus onto a Hispanic family living in southern California. The film follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his family after he wakes up with a bite on his arm. He develops all manner of seemingly supernatural powers and ends up being able to communicate with an entity that’s following him. Over the course of the film we follow Jesse’s corruption by the spirit. which changes him from the good time guy he used to be into something more… demonic.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

So, it’s semi-familiar territory here. We have our favourite invisible demonic force back again for the fifth time. Plus, we’ve ditched the fixed cameras and resorted back to the Blair Witch Project-esque handicams. Although this shakes up the Paranormal Activity format, it also loses one of its reasons for being charming: increasing audience familiarity with the surroundings. It’s this fact that had you surveying every scene like a detective to pick up on the slightest twitch of curtains or grunt and groan. Although this format has been somewhat worn out after four instalments, it’s a trademark of the series… which has been lost.

But what of the scares? Unfortunately, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones still relies on jump scares and loud noises. It still has that ominous sub-bass rumble to accompany the tense scenes (a marvellous trick to get you on edge), but the scares are all too forced / LOUD NOISES. That being said, it was nice to see a slight variation introduced into the scare cauldron. We actually see some demonic powers being used for the first time; it’s no longer just an invisible creature stomping around (although the powers are only seen through the possessed individuals). I’m almost hoping that at some point they reveal this demon. Although that’ll have the Jeepers Creepers effect (i.e., the creature ceases to be scary), it’s needed. After all, this series is going to have to end at some point isn’t it? Why not bring the demon out? Having said all that, I’d say Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones succeeds at scaring more than its immediate predecessor.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Fans / followers of the franchise will ultimately be rewarded / disappointed though. As I mentioned at the outset, the series has chronology issues for sure. This film will just add to this confusion. Despite the rebranding, this isn’t a separate entity; it still fits into the existing set of events as some sort of bizarre prequel / sequel / accompaniment. That’s spoiling nothing, and keeps EVERY option open for you!), but it’s true!

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t the shot in the arm that the franchise has been calling out for recently. It seems like we’re constantly spinning in a demonic vacuum and not advancing the overarching plot all that much. There are scares there for the more nervous amongst us / those with hearing aids turned up too loud, but again the film fails to capture the magic of the original Paranormal Activity. Paranormal Activity 5 best advance things along with this Katie plot, or it can expect me to deliver an even more damning verdict…

But then again, Paranormal Activity may be another bloody prequel. The sequencing currently stands at 3, 2, Marked Ones, 1, 4… and I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t taught that bizarre numbering order when I was back in school. Let’s end this review in a similarly odd way: And that’s all I have to say about that really / Or I may unleash my own demonic rage / Something that truly reinvigorates the franchise again / Firstly, I’m hoping for something new and inventive.

Phage Factor:

2.5 Stars

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This Is The End (2013)

This Is The End (2013)

You know what I like? When films are meta and self-referential. When they’re not afraid to mock themselves or even parody themselves to some extent. I like it even more when actors are willing to poke fun at themselves on-screen. I mean, they must all be aware of their public persona and the way they’re depicted in the media. That’s why it’s great when they get involved with roles / pieces that poke fun at themselves, no matter how subtly. From Zach Galiafanakis‘ Between Two Ferns webisode series of interviews through to Bill Murray in Zombieland, where he answers “do you have any regrets?” with “Garfield, maybe”. I like it. So, how do you make a film about the rapture and the end of days a bit comical? Well, how about getting some of the industry’s current comedic frat-pack and throwing them into the film… as themselves…

This Is The End (2013)

Yes, This Is The End tells the tale of how the world will end – all fire and brimstone whilst the good are raptured into heaven and the rest of us are abandoned here as the Earth becomes engulfed in flames and is dominated by demonic entities. So where does our film decide to position itself for this apocalyptic event? James Franco‘s house warming party of course. And who else is there? Let’s throw in Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride. Not enough for you? Then how about Michael Cera, Emma Watson, Rihanna, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and a whole heap of others. Yes, this is one star-studded film. But don’t for a second think back to the appalling Movie 43 as a reference point here. Thankfully, This Is The End is a far better movie… and is actually rather funny!

This Is The End (2013)

What’s most pleasing about the film is the rapport and on-screen dialogue between the stars. Some are really sending up their characters and acting in a totally atypical way, such as Michael Cera, whilst others embrace how the public perceives them, such as Seth Rogan and James Franco. Rogan has jokes thrown at him about his wooden acting, jarring laugh and inability to play a different character, whilst Franco embraces this artsy, higher-than-thou attitude he’s sometimes painted as having owing to his personal dalliances with trying to acquire every degree under the sun in his spare time. It is simply very, very funny to watch. All of the actors work brilliantly as an ensemble – quite how much is ad-lib and how much is scripted, I’m not entirely sure, but it all works seamlessly.

But what of the plotting? What starts out as a somewhat loose and meandering premise: “oh it’s the end of the world”, suddenly becomes quite compelling and I genuinely found myself enrapt in the world of the rapture. I wanted to know how Franco et al. were going to get out of this situation! Things also got a little crazy when the film started to actually spend money on special effects… you see, This Is The End is quite low tech for the most part; relying heavily on the rapport between the characters and their humorous dialogue. This is great, and thankfully works… but the film turns on its head in its final act. You see, what started out as a humorous little romp about the end of the world turns into something rapidly approaching horror.

This Is The End (2013)

Yes, you read that right… This Is The End actually brings in some effective scares and beautifully animated demons and nasties into the mix. I liked this. Even if it did make me think I was watching the dog-demons from Ghostbusters at one point. I found this change of pace and tone to be quite refreshing and really kept me entertained until the bitter end. The movie doesn’t market itself this way, which is a bit perplexing, but nevertheless – I enjoyed it!

This Is The End (2013)

That brings us to the humour… what of it? As I’ve alluded to until now, the humour works and had me laughing. For the most part. Maybe I’m getting a little too long in the tooth nowadays, but drug jokes / gore jokes / dick jokes don’t make me laugh as much as they used to. And there are a lot of those jokes in here. If you’re not a fan of Superbad, Pineapple Express or any other of the films associated with Seth Rogan and chums, you’re probably not going to be too impressed. Thankfully, for the movie, I am for the most part. But this is probably the film’s biggest weakness, because if you’re not a fan of this humour, you’re going to strongly dislike the movie itself. This is a shame as I genuinely think you should nip out and see this whilst you can.

This Is The End can stand proud: it’s a movie that lives up to the sum of its parts. It doesn’t collapse under its own star power and doesn’t bill itself as the “greatest ensemble cast ever assembled” like that Movie 43 abomination. What you have here is a sharp, funny and mildly horrifying take on the end of the world. It won’t be to everybody’s tastes, that’s for sure, but if you’re at least a fan of some of the stars in this movie then it’ll definitely appeal to you. I can quite confidently state that this may be the best comedy of 2013 so far… but unless the end of the world comes tomorrow, this may yet change… stay tuned!

“It’s the end of the world as we know it”… Well, that’s what REM sang a good while ago. Sure, the rapture looks horrific in This Is The End and I wouldn’t fancy squaring up to any of those demons. But I’m trying to wonder what I’d rather be faced with… a lifetime of fire and brimstone, being tracked down by fierce looking demons, or being forced to watch and re-watch Movie 43 over and over again… Hmmm… just how hot are those coals again??

Phage Factor:

4 Star

Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)

Back in 2009, a movie came out that brought something new and refreshing to the “found footage” genre of horror movie made so popular by The Blair Witch Project a decade before. That film was Paranormal Activity. Like its snotty-faced muse, it was very low budget and had a certain simplicity to it. It relied on a single handicam being placed in a bedroom every night to capture what spooky shenanigans were occurring. Audiences loved it, so inevitably the sequel hit screens the following year. And in a pattern resembling Saw, we’re now seeing sequels summoned on a yearly basis to coincide with Halloween. But is Paranormal Activity 4 a devilish return to form, or is it just a pale apparition of what went before?

If you’ve been following the franchise thus far then this film returns back to the “regular” timeline set forth in Paranormal Activity and Paranormal Activity 2, but does draw on plotlines exposed in the prequel, Paranormal Activity 3. I know, I too wish they’d just called Paranormal Activity 3 “Paranormal Activity: Inception, or Origins, or The Summoning”… just something to make the chronology a little easier to comprehend! Regardless, it follows on from the massacre at the hands of Katie (Katie Featherston) in PA2. And guess what? She’s gone walkabout with Hunter and ended up in a new neighbourhood – a new neighbourhood that houses our lead, Alex (Kathryn Newton), and her family. Inevitably, spooky things start happening and the Paranormal Activity storyline is developed… very, very slowly… and not in an interesting new way.

He’s behind you…

The big “hook” this time is the use of modern technology to capture the activity, namely webcams and X-box Kinect’s detection system. I’ve got to say, it worked, but it wasn’t as effective as it could have been, and nowhere near as interesting as what went before. The main problem is that in previous instalments the cameras were positioned in such a way that you became very familiar with the room over time. The nature of a webcam mounted to a laptop is that it travels and moves a hell of a lot; thus breaking some of this continuity. Sure, some of these cameras are artificially “fixed” to capture the action, but it somewhat removed some of the tension by having them so mobile.

The next thing you’ve got to come to with a horror film is… the horror, the scares, the tension. And I’ve got to say that spare the last 3 minutes, the film is incredibly light on all of the former. The Paranormal Activity franchise has got a reputation as being a “slow burner” and one that gradually ramps up the tension, but this takes “slow burner” to an entirely new level. This is very slow. And the menace is somewhat removed by the silhouette outlined by the Kinect sensor’s projections. In previous films, you’ve come to use your imagination to conjure up what this demon looks like. Hell, in Paranormal Activity you saw those weird trotter / three-toed imprints in the talcum powder, and in Paranormal Activity 3 you had that snorting sound. I was imagining one hell of a demon. All of this is destroyed somewhat in PA4. You’ll see what I mean if you head out to see it.

This is an album cover by a death metal band called Crucifier (thanks Google). But THIS is how I saw Paranormal Activity’s demon. Or something close…

And how could I forget the return of my friend “LOUD NOISES!”. Yes, he’s back and with a vengeance this time around. The majority of the startlings are a result of the loud noises. I’m well aware that Paranormal Activity pioneered this approach, so I’m not expecting it to vanish, but a little more terror would have been appreciated. And god knows I rambled enough about this issue in my review of Sinister, which in retrospect was probably a better film than Paranormal Activity 4. In all aspects. The acting here isn’t bad, as Kathryn Newton is a very likeable lead and carries the film well, but its the shambolic writing that lets the film down so badly. I’m sick to death of the family never believing there’s a ghost until they’re crucified on a clothes line or suspended from the rafters by a dressing gown cord.

The Kinect effect. Not sure if Microsoft will feel a boom in their profits because of this though…

And the plot holes? My oh my are there plot holes! Although some would ruin the film, just ask yourself “who is Katie’s child?” – the one that she initially turns up with, because it sure as hell isn’t Hunter from Paranormal Activity 2. Who is he? Why does she have him? And just why the hell do they bother to record ghostly happenings if they never check the bloody tapes!? I’m half-expecting the already-commissioned Paranormal Activity 5 to deal with the unknown child to be honest. And inevitably I’ll be going to the cinema to see what they’ve cooked up this time. Hopefully something a little more refreshing and interesting…

Paranormal Activity 4 isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not even in the same league as the original. Many of the scares have been removed and the pre-requisite for imagination has been checked at the cloakroom. It was the fear of not knowing what the demon looked like that made it interesting for me. The addition of a witches’ covenant in Paranormal Activity 3 caught me a little off-guard, and was unwelcome in my eyes, but it added a bit of depth to the saga. This instalment does little to develop the plot.

Ultimately, this film’s developments are tantamount to finding out that the horrible black silhouette of a goblin lurking in the corner of your room is in fact a pile of clothes. It removes the fear and intrigue. Maybe I missed the point of the “silhouette” cast by the demon here, but the film certainly didn’t develop this image I have in my head. I certainly won’t be calling the Ghostbusters. Especially if Bill Murray isn’t coming to crack some jokes. Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2 – now THEY were scary movies! I’ve never looked at a fridge or bathtub the same since. Probably why I’m malnourished and odorous.

Phage Factor:

The Possession (2012)

With so many movies based on “true stories” nowadays, you’ve got to applaud the current generation of screen-writers. Not because they’re doing a remarkable job adapting these “true stories”, but because surely it’s making their job of writing fiction so much more difficult? Demons? Please! They definitely exist, as Paranormal Activity has shown. Ghosts you say? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was covered in An American Haunting. Witches? Oh come on – The Blair Witch Project (probably) proved that. So what does The Possession – the newest “based on a true story” horror film bring to the table …? Yup, demons again. Fear not Twilight, we’ve not yet caught wussy “vegetarian” vampires on film…

As you may have astutely ascertained from the title of the film, the story revolves around the premise of demonic possession. Here, the tale focuses on a sealed box that is bought for young Em (Natasha Calis) by her dad, Clyde (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Naturally, there’s something odd about the box – its sealed tight, but what lies inside? Yes indeed – some vengeful demon! Oh come on, that’s not a spoiler. What did you think it’d have in it? Coco Pops? Cue a demonic possession horror story that you’ve probably seen time and time again.

The trouble with the film is that it’s so derivative, although I must admit it’s hard for a writer to pen a tale of demonic possession and not have people say “oh, it’s like The Exorcist then?”. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that The Possession lurches from cliché to cliché of modern horror at a staggering pace. Firstly, there’s the lack of true scares. As with last year’s Insidious, we’re bombarded with ramped up sound effects to “scare” us. These aren’t scary – they’re startling and jarring. Then you have the target of the demon. If you had to picture someone in your mind, what would he / she look like? Young? Check. A girl? Check. Dark hair? A bit like Samara from The Ring? Well done – go collect 10 Phage points from the kiosk because that’s what you’re given! Why can’t someone break this tradition and cast a young, Indian boy as the target of the demon? At least that would be an attempt at being different.

In terms of the acting on display, I must say it wasn’t bad at all. Certain actors in the piece are actually the film’s redeeming feature. I thought 13 year old Natasha Calis acted very admirably and hit all the right notes. Too bad her make-up department decided that a look akin to a cross between Beetlejuice and the WWF’s Undertaker from circa 1994 was the correct way to emphasise she was “possessed” in the latter stages. However, it was Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Watchmen, The Losers) that really held the piece together playing a divorced dad with ambitions of coaching big league basketball. I know that the sub-plot of his basketball coaching was totally unnecessary, but I’d have been happy to see more of it. Or maybe I was hoping the film would turn into Moneyball with basketballs.

Samara from The Ring, by way of Beetlejuice and The Undertaker… Can’t guess she’s possessed at all…

But back on point, I thought Morgan really shone here, and he was clearly the most fleshed-out character in the script. This led to supporting roles such as older sister Hannah (Madison Davenport) and the mother, Stephanie (Kyra Sedgwick) coming across as extremely shallow and yes – clichéd – as neither believes in the possession until it’s too late. And before you wonder whether it at least ends in a unique way, then… no. I obviously won’t tell you what unfolds, but you probably already know in your heart of hearts if you’ve seen any horror film from the past 5 years.

They’re not an anti-Semetic family; they just love to get a bit rowdy when they headbang to Metallica.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no point in writing stories of possession as they’re always clichéd. For instance, I thought 2010’s The Last Exorcism was a great take on the idea and was also a damn good film. Even The Exorcism of Emily Rose attempted something different, even if it did fall flat. I just don’t know why writers, directors and studios are succumbing to this horrible trend of loud noises equating to horror. I mean, this has Sam Raimi up on the posters (he’s a producer) – the man responsible for The Evil Dead – and still nothing innovative comes through. A true horror should insidiously work its way into your psyche and have your nerves shredded. As much as the series is lambasted by purists, at least Paranormal Activity (at least the first one) really draws the audience in and has them recoiling in terror owing to the tension. For me, no film has surpassed the terror pay-offs of Rec (original Spanish version) and The Ring. Those films ended with a bang and really had my nerves shot on first viewing. Sadly, The Possession comes no-where near these two juggernauts or anything Asian cinema has spat out recently.

The Possession isn’t the worst horror movie you’ll see this autumn as we close in on Halloween. That I can more or less guarantee. But it’s never going to be regarded as a classic, nor even “one to pick up on DVD”. I’d recommend a rental when it hits stores if you’re into possession stories, or if you’re looking to hook up with that girl from down the street when you have a DVD night. I’m not saying the content is erotic (unless she’s a really freaky chick), but at least it might have her jumping into your arms if you have the 5.1 booted up. Especially if she’s a Twilight fan, as all she’s used to is wussy vampires and wimpy werewolves. In fact, go grab that glitter, sprinkle it on your chest and then watch The Possession. If that doesn’t work, then I don’t know what will.

Aside from a winning personality, a stunning smile and a healthy disposable income.

Phage Factor: