Thursday, January 9, 2014

CinemaBeach: Paranormal Actividad

Year: 2014
Director: Christopher Landon
Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh
Run Time: 1 hour 24 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

My first review of a 2014 movie! It's finally happening!

Also, is it just me or is the director kinda cute?


By the standards of the Paranormal Activity franchise, the spinoff Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones should get a full score just by including everything that’s in the trailer in the movie. It doesn’t seem like it would be that difficult, but you’d be surprised. In fact, some of the most exciting and terrifying moments of the entire five-film series have taken place in two minute bursts before other movies.
To fully understand the ludicrously convoluted mythology of this spinoff, let’s do a quick summary of the franchise up to this point: [SPOILERS FOR PARTS 1-4 IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS] The original Paranormal Activity was a simple and taut found footage thriller about a young couple taping themselves at night to capture evidence of mysterious nightly visitations. It ended with a possessed Katie (Katie Featherston) murdering her boyfriend. PA2 takes place slightly before the events of this film and details the haunting of her sister Kristi (Sprague Grayden). Her husband and stepdaughter eventually stop the demon from possessing Kristi and kidnapping their infant son by transferring its malice to Katie. Cut to months later as possessed Katie kills both parents and steals the kid (Hunter). Fairly simple so far.
Let’s see how long that lasts. PA3 takes place in the 80′s, following the girls as children. Their mother and stepfather are murdered by the demon and they are taken by their grandmother, who is part of a coven of witches that have gained wealth and power in exchange for the souls of their firstborn male descendants. This flies in the face of everything we’ve known up until now (ie. Katie and Kristi not being raised by witches). PA4 follows a totally different family in Nevada with a teen daughter and a young son. Katie moves in next door and they end up babysitting the young boy she has brought with her – hoping their kids can be friends. Yadda yadda, kid is marked with demon symbols, haunting happens. The big takeaway here is that the son of the family is, in fact, the grown up Hunter and the demon wants him back. How did Katie lose him? How did he get to Nevada? Where did she get the kid she’s using now? I don’t know and neither do the writers. In their attempts to expand the mythology and explain the demon’s backstory, narrative continuity had to be thrown right out the window. Basically the only consistency at this point is the found footage element and the sped-up night shots.
So you can imagine the excitement I felt anticipating the immensely nonsensical and dubious twists and turns The Marked Ones would bring to the table. As a Latino spinoff to the franchise, it already had a leg-up to be promisingly inane. Let’s be clear – I have no problem with diversifying the franchise. The Latino demographic is a huge supporter of the series and horror characters tend to be overwhelmingly and exhaustingly Caucasian. But did it have to be its own separate spinoff? Why separate the storylines? It wouldn’t be difficult just to make Paranormal Activity 5 about Latino characters, it makes just as much sense as moving the fourth film to Nevada. It would save a lot of narrative strong-arming and avoid the whole “separating the races” thing it’s got going on. You have to be careful around that.
Quite surprisingly, the film rarely rises to the same level of idiocy as its concept, making it easily better than the third and fourth films right off the bat. Following the exploits of Oxnard teenager Jessie (Andrew Jacobs) and his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), The Marked Ones tells a familiar story – mysterious noises from a neighbor’s apartment, fun with a handheld camera, and a mysterious entity.
When Anna (Gloria Sandoval), the old lady who lives underneath Jessie’s apartment, is murdered mysteriously, the kids decide to explore her abandoned home but Jessie wakes up with a mysterious circular mark on his arm and he begins to change. At first he welcomes the presence – he can do cool stuff like blow up an air mattress in 5 seconds or do some rad kick flips on his skateboard. But once the presence reveals its intent to take over his body, his friends must rush to learn the secret of the Marked Ones and save his soul.
The scares are frequently anticlimactic – the anticipation gets you but the payoff is poor. However, there is a fair amount of solid found footage horror and a couple of truly great moments that manage to elevate the whole thing. It’s a totally average paranormal exploration film, but on the adjusted grading scale for handheld camera films, merely being average puts it far above most of its competition.
Also, on the filmmaking side, there’s some great use of editing for comedic effect. In general, the comic relief elements are consistently amusing, mostly coming from Hector, whose relatively poor grasp of Spanish allows him to act as a stand-in for the English-speaking audience members during some of the more Hispanic-centric scenes. He’s basically a paranormal Dora the Explorer.
The film is rife with connections to the original franchise both logical (the Marked Ones are pursued by the same coven run by Katie and Kristi’s grandmother; Kristi’s stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim) returns to dump some exposition) and utterly preposterous (What are the child versions of the sisters doing in the basement?). Which again raises the question of the necessity of being a spinoff, because aside from not including sped-through night shots, the formula is more or less exactly the same. There’s even a gonzo final scene that throws about 800 wrenches into the idea of continuity, a franchise tradition.
And, come to think of it, that one subtraction actually removes an important element from the script. Without the necessity of filming themselves while they sleep, there’s no reason for Jessie and later Hector to keep filming at any point. In the later moments when stuff is really going down, literally the only reason Hector brings the camera along is because he’s in a Paranormal Activity film.
My verdict? The Marked Ones is inconsequential but it’s fun and trashy horror. It’s dumb, but not any more than the two films that preceded it (the Foolish Character award going to a girl who agrees to film a sex tape with a stranger she just met in a murdered lady’s apartment), both of which it is markedly superior to. It’s always engaging, occasionally scary, and a reassuring new look at an increasingly stale franchise that makes me excited for future installments.
Witches are hot right now, what with American Horror Story: Coven blowing up televisions everywhere, and The Marked Ones hits the sweet spot between an endlessly retold and familiar story and the fresh novelty of these new characters. Throw in a gangster family member with a shotgun (that is absolutely not as stereotypical as it sounds) and you’ve got yourself an exciting, if not particularly groundbreaking horror movie.
TL;DR: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is delightfully daffy and reasonably better than the two films that preceded it.
Rating: 7/10
Should I Spend Money On This? It's reasonably scary and fun, so definitely - if you're in the mood for some January horror.
Word Count: 1263
Reviews In This Series
Paranormal Activity 4 (Joost/Schulman, 2012)
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (Landon, 2014)
Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (Plotkin, 2015)

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