Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

4 out of 5

Directed by: Christopher Landon

As a found footage movie, the fifth Paranormal Activity entry surprises: both the subgenre and franchise are long-in-the-tooth at the point it was released, but it still holds of as a really great example of the format, helping us to set aside our “why are you filming this?” questions by firstly grounding us with characters and story, and then, by the time such wonders might arise, tossing in the quality distractions of frights. But more specifically as a PA entry, series co-writer / writer since #2, Christopher Landon, swings a homerun, tying together his efforts at world-building in those prior films and sealing the deal with focused direction; The Marked Ones is on par with the original in terms of engagement and effectiveness, but also can’t be said to have worked as well without some of the drudgery (ahem #4) we’d been through previously.

Ditching the security-cam setup and “Night ##” title card format of the preceding entries, The Marked Ones goes for a more typical found-footage route of just handing someone a camera and giving them an excuse to walk around with it. That “someone” is just-graduated teen Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), who then sets about doing what social media-obsessed teens do: started filming him and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) doing stupid shit. This is kind of what was being attempted in PA4, but that was affixed to webcams, and so still mimicked the series’ general look. The Marked Ones is, essentially, any given found footage film in structure, but then starts to seed in the series’ lore and some of its particular variety of scares. What sets it apart besides that is in how easily we bond with Jesse and Hector, who are dumb goofballs, but not horror movie dumb goofballs. The California streets on which they live in their cramped apartment building, hanging out with Jesse’s grandmother, offer a tang of reality from which we’ve stepped further and further away as the PA movies have progressed; the very palpable sense of danger from accidentally filming the wrong people or being on the wrong street at the wrong time further inform the relief found when the two friends film one another being silly; there’s a sense of innocence running beneath the characters that makes paling around with them legitimately enjoyable.

But Landon is mindful of pacing: early on we get mention of the bruja living in the apartment building, and as the two are filming their antics, they pick up (rather believably) on what might be some type of ritual. Of course, this spurs on dares and baiting between the friends more than it does any outright mockery or belief in danger, and things escalate appropriately: discovering more devious things inside the bruja’s apartment; strange things starting to happen, centered around Jesse. And though I’d already credit the film with meeting the mark of quality scares, achieved through contextually justified moments, and thanks to the free-roving camera, giving Landon the flexibility to come up with some really unique jumps as well, The Marked Ones goes a step further and gives series followers some fantastic easter eggs and enticing lore additions.

Now, though I’d still say this is a really fun experience even for those without any formerly viewing Paranormals, the ending will probably feel like it drags on a bit without that context, and despite my praises as to prioritizing spooky distractions when necessary, there are, inevitably those found footage moments that simply make zero sense for still having a camera on you. And this is all considered as relative to the subgenre itself: latter-day entries like this are hard-pressed to tap into the same rawness that makes things like the original PA, or Blair Witch, or Rec, still stand up as solid movies on their own. But nonetheless, this probably won’t be your absolute first FF, in which case, you’re in for a way better than average one, and especially so if you’re a PA fan.