I think the best part of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the fact that it made me excited for Paranormal Activity 5 – the next in the series which will be released this October. The other film sequels sort of fell flat when it came to connecting the entire franchise – more questions were raised than answers given. This film, by contrast, transforms the series from being simply about Katie and Micah, Kristi and Hunter, Alex and Wyatt. In The Marked Ones, we are dealing with a coven that is culling young men on a global scale. While the film isn’t really as scary as others, it serves as a type of run down for where the series plans to go.
Disclaimer: This review is a bit long and includes quite a bit of re-cap, so don’t read if you don’t want to find out what happens. I felt I had to write the review this way because there is a bit to tie together with the other films.
I just can’t quit this franchise, which is why I made my way to the theater alone this weekend in the pouring rain, buffered by cold medicine, fuzzy socks, and warm boots. Which reminds me — why on Earth they would release this at the end of January instead of before Halloween is a puzzle to me. Why mess with a good thing? I guess this film is sort of an appetizer, and they are planning Paranormal Activity 5 as the main course. Who knows.
What I noticed off the bat was that this film, thankfully, moves from the wealthy Californian suburbs to a working-class Latino Neighborhood in Oxnard, California. I, for one, was thankful not to be subjected to two hours of wealthy, Caucasian kids running around with 3,000 computers and expensive video equipment. How the hell did Katie and Micah afford that big house anyway? From the start, The Marked Ones is a far cry from Lindsay and Dinah Lohan from Paranormal Activity 4.
The basic plot is as follows: Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) purchases a video camera with cash received from his high school graduation and documents adolescent boy things with his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) and neighbor Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). I like the handheld video perspective of this film, as the “set up cameras around the house and wait for scary stuff to happen” of the last four films was getting kind of old. We watch his high school graduation as his family hangs streamers and other simple decorations – we watch him take shots with his grandmother in a very cute and down-to-Earth scene. We find out that Jesse’s mother has passed away, as one of his relatives says in a somber moment that “Mom would have been proud of you today.” Jesse is a likable kid, the type of boy whose general good manners and positive attitude no doubt come from the fact that he lives with his father, sister, and grandmother in a small apartment complex. I suddenly feel like breaking into a chorus of In the Heights.
One night, the boys snake a camera downstairs into Anna, Jesse’s spooky downstairs neighbor and one the boys have nicknamed bruja’s apartment when they hear her making a ruckus. The see a young woman, nude, standing completely still in the middle of the woman’s living room. Of course, the boys are ecstatic until they see Anna, also completely nude and nowhere near as attractive as the young woman, come over to hear and start to paint her belly with a symbol in red paint. The boys are still more enthralled by the nudity than the audience, who recognizes the symbol that Anna is painting as the same one we’ve seen in the other Paranormal Activity films. This scene takes a comedic turn when Jesse’s grandmother bursts into his bedroom and the boys scramble to turn off the film. Things turn somber soon when Anna is found murdered and the suspect turns out to be none other than Oscar (Carolos Pratts), the valedictorian from Jesse’s graduating class.
Horror movie bad decision #1 comes when Jesse, Hector, and Marisol decide to “investigate” aka “break into” Anna’s apartment, now crime scene. Not surprisingly, they find evidence of witchcraft or other disturbing foul-play, such as a nursery and a table full of surgical tools which you might find in a labor and delivery ward. They also find boxes full of VHS tapes labeled with names we know all to well by this point, as well as pictures of Jesse.
Soon after this visit, Jesse finds himself possessed by powerful but seemingly very cool powers — some of which he documents on Youtube. He also finds a bite mark on his arm (something that we remember happening to Katie in Paranormal Activity). In a heroic moment, he defends his best friend from a few very scary looking Latino LA gangsters by throwing them upwards of twenty feet with a single blow. We find ourselves rooting for Jesse, as no one seems more deserving of supernatural abilities than this genuinely good-hearted boy.
Unfortunately, things don’t usually pan out for characters like Jesse.
What was originally something cool turns into something scary very quickly.
I have to hand it to Christopher Landon that that technique of using the old-school Simon game in lieu of a Ouija board was very inventive. Throughout the course of the film, the boys would ask the machine questions and it would respond by blinking green for “yes” and red for “no.” Like most things, this is cute at the start but becomes more ominous as they ask questions like “is there something you want?” or “leave me alone!” For some reason, inanimate objects that suddenly become calculating really freak me out. Of course, Jesse’s grandmother tries to put an immediate kibash on their using this toy – saying it’s a bad idea. I’m telling you, don’t mess with abuela. The older generation knows.
Spookiness begins to take over when Hector and Jesse meet up with two attractive and voluptuous girls at a neighborhood house party and bring them back to their haunted house/apartment complex. For some reason, they decide to bring the girls to Anna’s apartment, I guess to show off the fact that “wow, look – we live upstairs from a woman who got murdered,” not to mention the fact that when you live with extended family, there’s little room for sex.
Nothing gets me in the mood like wandering around a crime scene, that’s for sure. And you can be sure that sex in a horror film always leads to really, really bad stuff happening.
When Jesse is about to seal the deal with this girl, in the crime scene, he leaves her lying prone on the floor, video camera recording, to run upstairs to get a condom. The girl hears knocking coming from under the floor, and in possible the most frightening part of the film, we see a hand come out of a trap door and try to grab her and pull her down. It’s Oscar. When the boys find him, he flees and commits suicide by jumping off a building. Jesse and his friends check out the basement of Anna’s apartment and find pictures of Oscar, Jesse, and Jesse’s family. There’s even a baby picture of Jesse.
Upon further investigating, the boys find out from Arturo, Oscar’s friend, that Oscar had been in contact with none other than Ali Rey – yes, the pre-teen girl with the pimply boyfriend from Paranormal Activity 2 who had told him, seemingly casually, that men all over the world have been becoming possessed. Marisol and Hector decide to meet with Ali themselves, and she tells them about a coven of women who are possessing and collecting young men. She even writes down the address of the house where the final sacrifice takes place.
Okay. I would think that someone with this type of information might, you know, inform someone with a bit more authority – but I suppose we know from past horror film experience that the cops almost always end up dead when they try to interfere.
During the third and final act of the film, we witness Jesse becoming more aggressive and, well, possessed. He stands in the bathroom in front of the mirror and pulls long, dark hairs out of his eyes (um, yeah, wtf? That came out of nowhere…) and starts mistreating the family dog – a Chihuahua, appropriately. Sigh. He goes down to the basement of Anna’s apartment to find spooky figures of young Katie and Kristi and is attacked by an unknown figure. Before Marisol and Hector try to bring Jesse to the hospital, Jesse is kidnapped and the two enlist the help of Arturo and his friend Santo – who decide to bring serious amounts of ammunition with them to this witch hunt (fast life, drug life, thug life, rock life, every night….) I have a feeling witches aren’t afraid of uzis, but I digress.
The four – Santo, Arturo, Hector, and Marisol – looking right out of a scene from Don’t Be a Menace, find the gateway to the house, which turns out to be the home of creepy Grandma Lois from the end of Paranormal Activity 3. Of course, the coven appears and attacks them, killing Santo and knocking down Arturo before Hector and Marisol enter the house. The two end up splitting up somehow – in the way that every horror movie has the two final characters somehow split up (see also, the end of the Blair Witch Project).
Jesse begins to go after Hector, desperately opening the door to another gateway in the house, ending up in …. wait for it, Katie and Micah’s kitchen! We see Katie walk, trance-like, down the stairs and into the kitchen before standing in front of the counter. Hector screams and pleads for her to help him, and as soon as Katie sees him, she quickly grabs a knife from the drawer and lets out a blood-curdling scream for Micah. When Micah comes down the stairs, Katie stabs him. Hector runs but is intercepted by Jesse, who is now completely possessed, who presumably kills him, as the camera falls to the floor before being retrieved and turned off – I guess by a member of the coven…
To be honest, this movie didn’t scare me very much. There really wasn’t very much paranormal activity at all in this film, which makes sense given the title of The Marked Ones. I know that this film was panned by many critics, but I have to say that I enjoyed the line of demarcation created by Landon. What we find out by the end of this film is that witches perform spells on pregnant mothers and after the mothers give birth, their first male children become “the marked ones,” meaning that they are essentially possessed.
In Katie and Kristi’s family, the women took their sweet time producing a male offspring, which didn’t happen until the birth of baby Hunter, who we meet in Paranormal Activity 2. However, in Paranormal Activity 3, we see Katie and Kristi’s grandmother marking them as some sort of demon bride (remember the creepy scene of Kristi saying she wanted to marry Tobey?) Thus it makes sense that whichever demon bride Kristi was married to would eventually come to collect his son. Where things get confusing is that during Paranormal Activity 2, the Reys transferred the demonic force from Kristi to Katie with the help of their nanny. As we saw in Paranormal Activity, Katie was marked with the demon bite and was therefore chosen to continue the quest to collect Hunter. She gets him, but then he is adopted by the family we meet in Paranormal Activity 4. Katie then appears again, with yet another “adopted” boy, and comes to collect Hunter once again. So now Hunter is I guess living with this coven of women full-time – I hope for his sake that they are all post-menopausal.
Explicating this film is something that takes time, but when you take a step back to look at it, you can see how cleverly the films are intertwined. Still, some things remain a mystery. We remember Katie telling the medium in Paranormal Activity that she’s felt someone watching her since she was a young girl, and that whatever she experienced at night was always directed towards her, never her sister. She also speaks of a disastrous fire that they had at their childhood home, which has never been addressed in any of the films. I guess we will just have to wait and see what Paranormal Activity 5 has in store for us…. you know, the few who are still putting this much time and energy into this series!