Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 17, 2014)
With 2014’s The Marked Ones, the Paranormal Activity franchise delivers its fifth movie in only 51 months. Yeah, the original flick got a film festival debut in 2007, but it didn’t earn a broad release until October 2009, so few saw it until then.
Via a US gross of $32 million, Marked Ones becomes the weakest earner of the bunch, but given the low budget involved, it still turned a sizable profit. The $5 million cost of Marked Ones looks like big bucks compared to the $15,000 (!) of the first film, but it remains chump change in Hollywood terms.
Given those profits, I assume we’ll get yet another Paranormal Activity flick before too long, though probably not in the Marked Ones universe, as it detours a wee bit from its predecessors. Set in summer 2012, Marked Ones introduces us to Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), a recent high school graduate who uses some of the money given to him to buy a video camera.
Jesse claims that he hears weird noises from the apartment of downstairs neighbor Ana (Gloria Sandoval). He utilizes his new camera to document some of this and witnesses events like a strange ritual Ana conducts with a naked woman (Angelina Morales).
Matters become even more perplexing when Jesse’s valedictorian classmate Oscar (Carlos Pratts) shoots and kills Ana. From there, Jesse and his pal Hector (Jorge Diaz) escalate their investigation and soon find themselves amidst plenty of spooky weirdness.
When I reviewed Paranormal Activity 4, I disliked it and stated I should probably bail on the franchise. After all, I didn’t enjoy the first one either, and the two seemed so similar that it appeared unlikely a fifth entry would do much for me. (I never saw films two and three.)
So why did I give Marked Ones a look? Hope springs eternal, I guess, and also it came billed as more of a “cousin” to its predecessors instead of a tale directly connected to the others.
Unlike the first four Paranormal Activity films, Marked Ones doesn’t act as a true sequel/prequel. It becomes the first of the franchise to essentially leave out the Katie character from the original – as an active participant, that is. She does make an appearance, one that would fall into spoiler territory if I discussed it, but suffice it to say that she plays no real role in the film.
While this does make Marked Ones a deviation from the usual characters, it doesn’t alter the standard pacing/action template. In the prior films, we saw a lot of ordinary, everyday activity punctuated by occasional moments of alleged spookiness. Those occurred so infrequently – and were so forgettable – that the movies generated little to no tension/excitement.
Marked Ones tends to follow this mix of banal and supernatural, though I think it probably favors the latter more than its predecessors – especially during its second half. The first half of the movie may cause one to wonder if anything will ever happen in the movie beyond the antics of some Latino teens with a lot of time on their hands. Yeah, we see a few hints of the titular paranormal activity, but these remain small tidbits.
The situation improves in the second half, though, and occasionally threatens to redeem the rest. Marked Ones definitely leans on dramatic material more heavily than its predecessors, and this makes it semi-interesting.
For a while, at least. Without question, Marked Ones fares best in its second act. That section comes with the most intrigue as it hints at the supernatural changes within Jesse; the story adopts a bit of an Unbreakable feel and turns reasonably involving. Other components like a haunted electronic “Simon” game add a little pizzazz as well.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t work well. The first act lacks much of interest as it sets up the characters, and the third act simply goes off the rails with its twists and turns. I do appreciate that Marked Ones attempts more action than its sluggish cousins, but it doesn’t achieve much. It gives us plenty of antics but precious little actual horror or tension.
I guess it should count for something that Marked Ones provides a more interesting experience than its perpetually dull predecessors, but that doesn’t make it an honest to God “good movie”. Actually, this might become the biggest disappointment of the bunch, as it almost becomes enjoyable for a while before it loses its way. I might prefer it to the other flicks in the franchise, but I still don’t think much of Marked Ones.