Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Directed by:  Christopher Landon.
Written by: Christopher Landon.
Starring: Andrew Jacobs (Jesse), Jorge Diaz (Hector), Catherine Toribio (Penelope), Meredith Eaton (Convina), Richard Cabral (Arturo), Gabrielle Walsh (Marisol), Noemi Gonzalez (Evette), Katie Featherston (Katie), Molly Ephraim (Ali), Micah Sloat (Micah), Eddie J. Fernandez (Carlos), Renee Victor (Jesse's Grandmother), Karolin Luna (Laura Esposito), Chloe Csengery (Katie), Jessica Tyler Brown (Kristi), Carlos Pratts (Oscar Hernandez), Gloria Sandoval (Anna).

I have never seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies after the first one. I saw that one early – before it had become a low budget hit – and it surprised, scared and shocked me more than most horror movies have. It seemed like at long last another filmmaker had followed in the footsteps of The Blair Witch Project and made another do-it-yourself hit. When Blair Witch came out, I thought we’d see more like it – but for a long time, it seemed like a one off. I didn’t see Paranormal Activity 2 mainly because I didn’t want my pure, scary experience of the first film ruined – in the way that inferior sequels sometimes can diminish their better originals. When Oren Peli made the first film, he was doing it with no money and no interference (although, apparently, they did reshoot the ending) – but once it made money and studios got involved – and Peli left for other projects – I didn’t really want to see them. The reviews of the sequels were mixed, and once I fell behind, I never quite got the urge to catch up. I cannot say why I decided to rent Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones this past weekend – probably boredom, as I walked around the lone video store in my town looking for something to watch that night. Also, I knew that the film wasn’t really a sequel – a Paranormal Activity 5 will come out in its normal October time slot, as this series has taken over from the Saw franchise (which I also gave up on – I don’t think I ever saw the final installment) as Hollywood’s go-to October horror franchise – but rather a spin off. Presumably, it came into being via focus group – as some studio executive realized that America had a lot of Latinos, and they liked horror movies, so giving that audience a Paranormal Activity of their own seemed like a good – albeit cheap – bet. It’s easy to be cynical about such a move – especially since the resulting movie indulges in pretty much every cliché of Latinos one can think of – short of anyone coming out in a sombrero that is. I cannot help but think it probably would have been a smart idea to hand the writing and directing duties to a Latino filmmaker instead of someone who had simply written the last few installments. The truth is however, and this is sad, is that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones will be one of the few studio movies this year with Latino leads – so I guess it’s a win somewhat. Too bad the movie isn’t very good.

Instead of white suburban household, this Paranormal Activity takes place in a rundown apartment complex in Oxnard – populated mainly by Latinos. Best friends Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) have just graduated from high school, and are in that hazy time after high school when they’re not exactly sure what to do with themselves. Then a strange incident happens – as an older woman named Anna, who there have long since been rumors of her dabbling in witchcraft, gets murdered – presumably by the straight laced valedictorian of Jesse and Jorge’s high school. The pair cannot help but investigate the apartment after the police have gone – and then strange things start happening to Jesse – who slowly, but surely, starts to change – and develop weird powers. At first, Jesse thinks this is cool, but then he cannot control himself – he starts getting angry and violent – and Jorge, and Jesse’s friends and family try to bring him back from the brink of whatever is happening to him. Oh, and they communicate with the “other side” via an old Simon toy – which is creepier than it sounds.

The found footage genre is pretty much played out at this point. For every clever use of the technique – like Cloverfield, Chronicle or End of Watch – there’s a lot more low rent horror movies (or horrible comedies like Project X) which are basically dull, boring and incomprehensible because of the constantly shaking camera. There is very little new being done with the genre, as filmmakers seem content to simply repeat what has worked in the past. And audiences don’t seem to mind.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked One is one of the films that doesn’t do anything new. All the scares you’ve seen before – and even if the movie gets a couple of cheap, momentarily scares out of big “BOO!” moments, there is never the mounting sense of terror that made the original Paranormal Activity so genuinely terrifying. The best part of the movie may well be the opening act – with only a few hints of the supernatural. Jacobs and Diaz have an easy, natural chemistry between them and those opening scenes really did make me care about their characters. I cared less and less as the movie wore on, and it became more and more by the numbers – but there was something there in those opening scenes.

In short, the movie doesn’t do anything all that new, and I do wish it had upended some of the Latino clichés instead of fully embracing them. It’s not a horrible movie – it’s watchable all the way through – yet there is a definite been there, done that feel to the entire movie. I suppose if you’re not sick of this franchise yet, you may even enjoy the film. But this is only the second of these I’ve seen – and I’m already tired of them.

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