Sunday, January 5, 2014

Horror Off-Season: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

And we're back.

And also back with a new Paranormal Activity.  The to-beat yearly October released franchise for the past several years running had missed its traditional window this Halloween season.  Maybe that's why I found this recent year a bit disappointing when it came to new releases hitting theaters in October, but I digress.  What's being considered a spin-off to the original series, The Marked Ones, finally hit theaters in January.  Confusingly enough, Paranormal Activity 5 will still release in October 2014 and be the 6th film in the franchise.

I'll come right out and say that I did enjoy this movie a lot.  It wasn't as great as the first time watching the original Paranormal Activity, but it was still quite good.  They've gone back to world building, which is one of the reasons I think 3 did as well as it did.  They're able to find new things to explore and add to the mythology instead of just have the same old things go bump in the night.

The Marked Ones' story is concerned with a small group of friends in an Hispanic community in Southern California.  The protagonist, Jesse, graduates from (I believe) High School and begins to film his antics with his friend, Hector, using a camera his father bought to film the graduation.  There is a lot of random delinquent bullshit that goes on before the story really picks up when Jesse and Hector go to set off a firework behind their apartment complex and are interrupted by Oscar, their class Valedictorian, running away from what they discover is the crime scene of the shooting murder of their creepy neighbor, Ana.

My main problem with this movie is what seems to plague a lot of found footage horror.  There's never a really good answer for: Why the hell are you taping this?  Admittedly, I can see some of it being answered by the generational desire to record and catalog our lives, but certain things like...riding bikes to the nearby park to play basketball?  After the game of basketball, walking over to a vending machine to buy some snacks?  Why would you film's just buying snack food?  It had to happen in order for a specific scene to be caught, but in-story it seems a bit weird.  And especially a lot of what happens during the lengthy climax...why are you taping that?  And even more amazing you're holding the camera upright, about eye-level, facing forward.  While running like hell.

One of the things I really liked in 1 & 3 were the static cameras, that don't really exist here.  However, the action I feel is the best and the scares and creeps that were delivered best were done when the camera either wasn't being held or was held very very still.  And I think this is where The Marked Ones shined:  It managed to put the camera down and deliver some very nice, tense moments punctuated well by slowly sneaking moving scenes with jumps.  Another thing is that this is much more of a possession story than previous PA's, apart from 4.  What this does more successfully than 4 is that this movie abandons the vast majority of the haunted house, bump-in-the-night, trappings that 4 tried to balance and focus almost entirely on the possession.

That said, the original demonic slant and demonic torment and possession of the young girls seems to be becoming more and more distant from the core of the franchise, which is now focusing more on the coven's actions to facilitate the possession of young men...something that seems to originate with PA 4.

For my money, PA 3 is still a better entry into the franchise than The Marked Ones, and the new mythology elements this adds are actually a bit silly.  But this is a nice off-shoot from the franchise that feels very thematically consistent and has a lot of interesting references to the timeline, characters and events of the original 3 movies (4 seemed absent for some reason).  Very well done, especially refreshing after the mess that was PA 4.