Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

February 1, 2014
Andrew Jacobs in 'Paranormal Activity: The Markes Ones', 2014
Andrew Jacobs in 'Paranormal Activity: The Markes Ones', 2014

Paranormal Activity has become one of those franchises that seems destined to drag on forever, with each new installment introducing a few small innovations to keep the fans interested. The original Paranormal Activity of 2007 was a low budget sensation. Reputedly made at a cost of US$15,000, it has grossed more than US$100 million since its first appearance.

There have been sequels in 2010, 2011 and 2012, each made at a relatively small cost and garnering massive profits. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, is the fifth in the sequence.

The formula is pretty simple. In the first film, a young couple in San Diego find themselves plagued by invisible forces in their house. They set up a video recorder to try and capture the mysterious presence, and we watch – night after night – as the unseen intruder gets bolder and more powerful.

The idea, and its successful reception, owes a debt to reality TV. The film felt amateurish and unscripted, like a real home video. The special effects were cheap and insignificant, and the supposed demon was never seen in the flesh. It gave the unsettling impression that such phenomena could take place in any ordinary suburban house. It’s predictable and pretty dumb, but it may be that element of familiarity that keeps audiences coming back for more

The second film was a prequel; the third, a prequel to the prequel. Finally in Paranormal Activity 4 we ended up back in the present. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones shifts focus a little by setting the action in a poor Latino area of Los Angeles instead of middle-class suburbia. This time it is a teenage boy called Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who is possessed by the tireless demon. His zany friend, Hector (Jorge Diaz) gets to carry the camera.

One explanation for this new setting is that market research indicated the series was incredibly popular among Latinos. Another explanation is that the producers had to do something – anything! – to inject a bit of life into a concept that was looking increasingly threadbare.

As usual it takes a long time before anything scary or supernatural begins to occur. As usual there is some found footage, a bit of research in library books about the occult, and a few rudimentary attempts to communicate with the demon – this time through a tacky, battery-powered memory game called Simon, that had its moment of popularity in the 1980s.

Added authenticity is provided by much excitable muttering in Spanish from Jesse’s grandmother, and the stock device of viewing everything through the hand-held video camera. It has strained the boundaries of credibility in previous films that characters should keep filming everything when they are being menaced by a murderous, supernatural force. In this instance it becomes utterly ridiculous.

The first Paranormal Activity had a creepiness that built up slowly as the demon began with a little heavy breathing, then progressed to opening and closing doors, and flicking lights on and off. There was nothing to actually see but it was suitably chilling. In the current film most of the scares devolve into that horror movie cliché: ‘What’s behind the door?’ Eventually we have seen so many doors opened that it’s a matter of indifference whether we find an empty room or an evil spook.

After a slow start the movie rushes towards a conclusion, leaving the plot in a crumpled heap by the roadside. Suddenly there are gangsters, witches, flashbacks to earlier films, and a seemingly endless succession of doors that have to be opened – all immortalised on camcorder. As horror it’s dangerously close to comedy.

Despite this confusing, chaotic mish-mash of an ending, as the credits roll one knows with absolute certainty that Paranomal Activity 6 will be along in a year or so. This is probably the only aspect of the movie that might have viewers lying awake at night, trembling with dread.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
USA, rated MA 15+
84 mins
Written & directed by Christopher Landon;; starring Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Waldh, Renee Victor, Noemi Gonzalez, Carlos Pratts

Published in the Australian Financial Review, Saturday 1 February, 2014.

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