Director: Christopher B. Landon
Cast: Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh
Plot: Jesse (Jacobs) and best friend, Hector (Diaz) decide to investigate the murder of the woman in the flat below theirs, accidentally incurring the wraith of a malevolent spirit.
This is widely regarded as the Paranormal Activity that is universally disliked. While the franchise has reached an impossible amount of sequels (who knew that charming Indie horror would become a global sensation?), they have always managed to keep on the right side of decent. Whether the films stayed afloat with inventive scares or a story that is cleverer than one might suspect, this series has been making all the right calls. However, the Marked Ones ends up being the film where the ball was dropped.
It is not as bad as I was led to believe. We are introduced to a group of teenagers, led by the charismatic Andrew Jacobs. As proven by the dozens of poor found footage films, it is actually quite difficult to deliver a good performance on a grainy, shaky camera, so the natural delivery of the leads is welcome here. The fifth Paranormal Activity is worlds away from the other entries. For one, the emphasis isn’t on scares, but mystery. Our hero, Jesse, is celebrating his graduation, when him and his friends become more and more intrigued by the woman downstairs. She is rumoured to be a local witch and as the teens snoop around her place, there is definitely something off about her. Before they know it, she turns up dead in her flat, murdered, and out of a bravado sense of curiosity, the teenagers decide to investigate, armed with their fancy new camcorder. What follows is more of a chilled thriller, rather than the horror we were expected. While exploring, something latches onto Jesse and he ends up finding himself with a guardian angel. At first, the teenagers explore the extent of Jesse’s new power, as he performs reckless stunts, only for the supernatural presence surrounding him to save his life. It almost echoes Super 8 with the likeable teenagers messing around on camera. However, there is a sinister undertone, as Jesse starts transforming into a brainwashed disciple. His friends race around to solve what is happening to their friend, before it is too late. The change in pace keeps Paranormal Activity fresh. While there are long periods of the other movies, where we are sitting around, waiting for something to happen, here, there is never a dull moment. Sharp editing keeps the story racing ahead and rarely are we killing time with some half-hearted character development. There is always something happening and that made the Marked Ones one of the easiest Paranormal Activities to watch.
Did I like it? No, not really. It is impressive that the new director Christopher B. Landon has managed to create something different here, but different is a tricky creature to bring to a franchise like Paranormal Activity. Simply put, there are no scares here. It is the least scariest entry to the series yet and it gets to a painful amount of missed opportunities. The jumps and false starts are tame, compared to some of the brilliant shocks that came before and even the few jumps that get to you are often just someone running at the camera, after a period of silence. Nothing really impresses as it did with some of the clever set pieces in the other films. I appreciate Landon focusing on the story, but it is a bad approach to take, because, when you strip the plot down to its key details, it is the same movie we have seen four times before. A group of people notice something strange and spooky going on and investigate. Someone is possessed. It links back to the other movies in a last minute twist. While the other movies added to that with some subtle development, The Marked Ones just repeats what we’ve seen before. The mystery is good, but when you know the answer from the start, it kills that hunger to get to the bottom of the conspiracy. If some scares were thrown in to liven up the pace, this had a lot of potential. Sadly, Landon only really tries to terrify you in the obligatory heart-pounding finale sequence. However, if your entire movie is treading water, until the last seven minutes, you might as well just make a scary Youtube video.
Final Verdict: I appreciate the focus on story, but Landon forgets to make his horror movie scary – a mistake impossible to overlook.