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

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: