January 3, 2014
Molly Ephraim as Ali
Andrew Jacobs as Jesse
Richard Cabral as Arturo
Jessica Tyler Brown as Kristi
Jorge Diaz as Hector
Eddie J. Fernandez as Carlos
Carlos Pratts as Oscar Hernandez
Gloria Sandoval as Anna
Gabrielle Walsh as Marisol
The Paranormal Activity franchise started with a simple little film in 2009 that caught on like wild fire, based on some original usage of the first person “found footage” hand-held concept, and a nice creepy slow burn that seemed to let the audience inside the effects of a haunting – not the kind of haunting with CGI ghosts running around and throwing people out of windows, but more subtle kinds of things that, in the minds of some, “could really happen”. Since that beginning there have been a number of sequels, usually released in October, that have displayed varying levels of quality and scare factor. One thing that’s always been missing is some kind of cohesive story to follow – the attempts were there starting with Number 2, but the slightest slivers of basis for the haunting of Katie and Kristi Rey are revealed intermittently, leaving much to the annals of debate and theory, but nothing really concrete to hang one’s hat on. It’s possible to piece together some of the foundation by closely analyzing and cross-referencing each of the different sequels, but that’s too damn much work.
The franchise has gotten to the point where displaying the hidden camera haunting of another suburban family just isn’t going to cut it. We don’t want to move away from the integrity of the series by changing things up completely and making some kind of Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters kind of action film or anything, but we need something more. Something with some meat. Enter:Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.
We start with the graduation of Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) from high school, something that is presumably a pretty big deal considering the level of revelry and celebration that ensues among his extended immigrant family in what appears to be East Los Angeles. This is gang country, and the living situation for Jesse’s family is modest at best, but the family is happy – and they are all extremely proud of the boy and his finishing of a valuable education. As is the case in many cultures (other than the United States) Grandma (Silvia Cruiel) lives with the family, along with Jesse’s father and sister. Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Evette (Noemi Gonzalez), friends of Jesse, round out the frequent inhabitants of the small East LA apartment. There is also a neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval) who is frequently the subject of rumor and ridicule, due to the fact that her windows are all covered in newspaper, and sometimes screams and moans can be heard coming from her apartment.
All of a sudden, shortly after the graduation, Jesse starts to gain some special skills, and documents them with the camera he receives as a graduation present. When he starts to fall an unseen force catches him, when he’s attacked by muggers they suddenly fly across the playground unconscious. When the valedictorian of Jesse’s graduating class is seen leaving Anna’s apartment and is later suspected of murdering the woman, this coincides with the changes in Jesse reaching a point where it’s not fun and games anymore.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones has a few things going for it out of the gate. First, the family documenting the strange occurrences is very different from the kind of middle class families previously featured, and the authenticity of the lives of this family is captured beautifully by the handheld, and the differences between the day to day of these people from the typical suburbanites is refreshing and real. Additionally, there are a few “staples” of the Paranormal Activity franchise that were wisely laid to rest in this feature, namely the quicktime showing of video footage to highlight how long someone can stand in one place, as well as the sheets and things moving while people sleep and the puff of air that hits someone’s hair when a spirit presumably has passed through them. Those effects were great and original when they were done in the first few sequels, but at this point it’s been done, and it’s time for them to retire. In Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones they were.
The storyline of this film is also really great – there are some differences here from the “run of the mill” haunting and strange occurrences, as a few elements of the film Chronicle are introduced without going overboard when Jesse begins to exhibit unnatural powers, and the Mexican concept of “Brujeria”, or witchcraft is employed with the ever-steady Grandma quickly growing wise to what is transpiring. All of this is accomplished without leaving the format that has brought the Paranormal Activity franchise to prominence in the first place, and none of it is overdone in some kind of CGI-rich realm of ridiculousness. The story happens the way it happens, from the point of view of a hand-held camera, and it really works.
Then we get to where the rubber meets the road – Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is scary as hell! In spite of the fact that the filmmaking techniques stay true to the “slow burn” methodologies of PA past, this one is nail biting, jump and shriek scary. This is one of the scariest horror films in a while. That’s the true goal of any horror film, right? That reminds me of a conversation I had with a horror critic who panned Darkness Falls, yet admitted it was really scary. What? Anyway, that’s a conversation for another time…
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is, in many ways, the very best of the series. Whether or not one must be a fan of the series to appreciate it is difficult to ascertain, because we are fans of the series here at BHM so our vision will clearly be skewed. The fact that the story, background, and the “why” is clearly laid out, mixed with good characters and narrative that moves quickly yet is very natural, and topped off by being a heart-pumping fearfest, makes Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones a film that will be a joy for PA fans, and maybe even bring a few holdouts onto the team. Great job.