I’ve had a bit of a love-hate relationship with Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity franchise ever since the first horrifying incident featuring Micah, Katie, and the invisible demon destroying their relationship. To save you all a bland history lesson, Paranormal Activity caused me countless sleepless nights and Paranormal Activity 2 asserted itself as an adept horror watch, but I’m one of the few people who thinks Paranormal Activity 3 started a lame downward slide, and Paranormal Activity 4, well – woof. There’s a reason why I came into Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones with minimal enthusiasm and low expectations, but much to my surprise, writer/director Christopher Landon boldly reinvigorates a franchise quickly becoming bland, boring, and without any innovation – until now.
Expanding upon the Paranormal Activity universe, Landon introduces us to Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), a high school graduate who encounters evil forces and becomes what is known as “marked.” Noticing a suspicious bite on his forearm, Jesse and his friends attempt to unravel the mystery behind his new “powers,” the rituals being performed below his apartment, and the increasingly terrifying events plaguing everyone he knows. Staring directly into the unknown, Jesse and his crew embark on a dark journey no one is prepared for, but with a young boy’s fate in jeopardy, there’s no giving up on the selected individual – even if he appears to have gained a new “guardian” of some kind. Don’t you worry, the characters record every single second of pure, unfiltered terror – but you already know that by now.
Moment of truth – do we have a reason to be excited about Peli’s franchise again? I’m happy to report that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones starts 2014 off with a horrifying bang! Yes, The Marked Ones is the best Paranormal Activity since Oren Peli’s original, getting back to the hardcore scares that turned so many horror fans into momentary insomniacs. You’ll jump, squirm, and scream bloody murder – and have a blast doing so. Landon delivers jolting scares, tension-filled chills, and true moments of blood-curdling terror while avoiding lackadaisical cheapness that typically sinks such genre films. The Marked Ones keeps the screams flowing with a vibrant and shocking delivery, getting back to in-your-face, twisted, evil horror that quadruples your heart rate while the camera steadily focuses down a pitch black hallway – causing you to clench the nearest person in a fit of paranoid hysteria.
Christopher Landon also gets a bloody star for embracing midnight-movie antics that add more depth to his Latino-inspired screenplay. The previous sequels attempted to grasp a certain “suburban family” comedy routine that ended up being entirely too corny, even for a horror movie, yet Jesse and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) are downright hilarious at times. Sure, it was comical watching Micah try to get some on-camera sexy time from Katie, but there are moments of pure belly-laughter between these California kids that accentuate scares by offering an entertaining tonal comparison. Plus, what proper Paranormal Activity spin-off isn’t complete without some gang-bangers attempting to solve all their supernatural problems with shotguns and sub-machine guns? This is the ingenuity and life I’ve been begging for – something fun, something fresh, and something different.
With all that said, I’m still not 100% sold on where the Paranormal Activity franchise is heading story wise. Being a fair reviewer, I won’t divulge how Landon expands upon existing mythology, but I will comment on what’s been done to this point. In Paranormal Activity 4, we’re exposed to a full coven of witches, Hunter, a fully demonized Katie, and a large network of women embracing Katie’s cult. Honestly, I found the entire scenario much more horrifying when some unseeable demon was tormenting victims for what appeared to be his own pleasure, and this is probably why Paranormal Activity is still my favorite franchise entry to this day.
So what does Landon do? He adapts the “go big or go home” mentality and cranks insanity up to 11, entering an entirely new mind-blowing era for the franchise. I guarantee you’ll walk away from Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones with a billion questions, not many answers, but a certain respect for a movie that owns every ounce of absurdity – but does it work? I’m still extremely skeptical about where Paranormal Activity 6 can go, but in terms of franchise lineage to this point, The Marked Ones makes Paranormal Activity 3 and 4 look like cheap filler material only used to build to Landon’s newest, eye-popping climax. Looking into the future scares me to death, because some of the, well, some of the more “supernatural” occurrences are getting too magically powerful, but in this specific place and time, Landon has drawn me back into Peli’s franchise like a dumb, gullible moth to its shiny, inviting light.
I think there’s some hypnotic voodoo malarky being used on me right now because something is happening that hasn’t happened in years – I’m excited for another Paranormal Activity movie. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is an apology and re-establishing all at once, acknowledging how the last three sequels focused solely on camera gimmicks (surveillance cameras, rotating fan camera, XBOX Kinect camera) and lost touch with Peli’s horrifying source material – even if simplicity has transformed from a cut-and-dry paranormal story into a puzzling, dimension-spanning clusterbomb of wicken craziness. Wow, did I miss this feeling – the exhilaration of suffering minor panic attacks in a movie theater while anxiously awaiting each inevitable scare. It may not be perfect, and my head may still be spinning from all the new plot implications, but I do know one thing, it’s 2AM and all my apartment lights are still shining brightly – and they still will be long after I’m asleep.
Please note that the video below does contain minor spoilers for the film.
Thank you for ditching the gimmicks and focusing on horror once again Christopher Landon, because this is the best Paranormal Activity sequel since Oren Peli's original nightmare machine.