Despite improvements to the story experience, The Marked Ones proves that what we can actually see, no matter how dangerous, is significantly less terrifying.
A spinoff of the mega-successful Paranormal Activity franchise, The Marked Ones continues the trend of demon possession and found-footage cinematography - this time following the story of Oxnard, California resident Jesse (Andrew Jacobs). After his elderly neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), is found dead, Jesse along with his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) investigate the woman's apartment only to discover a room filled with demonic iconography, ritual tools, mysterious VHS tapes - and, most disturbing of all, pictures of Jesse.
Soon after, Jesse notices a sizable bite mark on his arm, followed by enhanced physical strength and otherworldly abilities. It isn't long before the super-powered fun wears-off as violent paranormal events leave Jesse fearing that he is being haunted by a malevolent entity - desperately seeking a way to banish his pursuer. With each passing day, the situation becomes increasingly dire, as Jesse, himself, grows more powerful (and subsequently more dangerous) - now a potential threat to his friends and family.
For Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, writer/director Christopher Landon (Burning Palms), who wrote the screenplay for Paranormal Activity 2-4, side-steps the main Katie-centric franchise plot to explore a (mostly) new found footage story line. The result? A mixed bag that improves upon the convoluted narrative of the last two movies, ups the action quotient, but fails to deliver where it really counts - scares. Aside from the first two entries, which are typically considered the best of the franchise, The Marked Ones imparts the most coherent, and at times most ambitious, Paranormal Activity story. Yet, a majority of the film's biggest frights, of which there are only a few, have been featured in the trailers - and none are as memorable as the iconic set pieces that put this series on the map.
One of the largest complaints about the Paranormal Activity films, at least in recent years, has been a muddled and over-complicated mythology that, by the end of each film, resulted in more questions than answers. In The Marked Ones, Landon makes smart use of his side-entry - delivering a character story that works as a standalone arc (with some genuinely humorous sequences) while also adding a few concrete details and direct ties to the larger franchise narrative.
Similar to its predecessors, The Marked Ones is not a particularly deep exploration of the characters or lore, since almost everyone is just reacting to events around them - with a few "knowing" participants offering up expository dialogue (read: on-the-nose explanations) to contextualize any supernatural events. Still, those who were disappointed by recent third act WTF moments in the series will find The Marked Ones actually manages to answer a couple of long-running questions along the way - before, once again, cracking the door open to another new, and no doubt controversial, expansion of the series' lore.
Characters are thinly drawn, with very little time spent building on-screen chemistry or relationships, but the primary cast is par for the course in the inherently awkward and stilted found footage format. Andrew Jacobs is a solid lead as Jesse - tasked with balancing the eighteen-year-old's carefree nature against a steadily darker influence. It is, possibly, the most thorough look at the actual demonic possession process the series has provided (so far) - which, for some, will be a welcome break the franchise's normal template: spying on a hostile spirit as he terrorizes suburban home dwellers.
Jacobs may be in the headlining role but Jorge Diaz, as Jesse's best friend Hector, is also a standout - since, as the situation escalates, the actor is responsible for carrying a significant portion of the story (and some very over-the-top moments) on his shoulders - while still acting as functional comedy relief. Following Jesse as the demonic presence around him intensifies is interesting but following Hector, who many will (at first) dismiss as a brainless joker, as he deals with the subsequent fallout injects an extra layer of weight to the limited but serviceable drama.
That said, an adequate story isn't the reason that potential moviegoers will watch Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones - since, from the beginning, the franchise has always revolved around a carefully crafted batch of scary setups and ensuing frights. Unfortunately, as mentioned, actual scares are in short supply this round; instead, Landon increases the amount of action (with several outright explosive scenes) and relies almost entirely on jump scares to keep viewers tense. Franchise fans who are still haunted by memories of the fan cam/demonic sheet combo (Paranormal Activity 3) or Toby's talcum powder footprints (Paranormal Activity) will find a significant shortage of similarly imaginative scares.
Separated from its Paranormal Activity branding, The Marked Ones is a pretty standard found footage experience. Landon crams so much side story world-building and superhuman action into the film's brief 84 minute runtime that very few of the actual horror setups are given enough room to mature and produce worthwhile scares. For years, the success of the Paranormal Activity franchise has been grounded in exploiting what audiences cannot see, playing on anticipation, and expectation to deliver a unique brand of found footage horror. Sadly, despite improvements to the story experience, The Marked Ones proves that what we can actually see, no matter how dangerous, is significantly less terrifying.
If you’re still on the fence about Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, check out the trailer below:
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones runs 84 minutes and is Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use. Now playing in theaters.
Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section below. If you’ve seen the movie and want to discuss details about the film without worrying about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it, please head over to our Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Spoilers Discussion or read our Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Ending & Connections Explained post.
For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant editors check back soon for our Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones episode of the SR Underground podcast.
Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.