The first two instalments in the Paranormal Activity horror movie series created a genuine sense of terror by subtlety placing intensifying supernatural events in a believable everyday setting. The story of an average person being targeted by an evil force recalled the demonic threat of The Exorcist while the home-movie found-footage aesthetic gave the films a disturbing verisimilitude.
Subsequent instalments have proven less effective as the film makers have introduced more fanciful horror elements such as extravagant CGI effects. The last Paranormal Activity film represented the nadir of the series as it resorted to ludicrous scenarios that included attacks by hordes of dead-eyed zombies. That film featured an ambiguous post-credit sequence set in in a shop festooned in what appeared to be South American artefacts and talismans. The latest instalment in the series Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones explains the relevance of that sequence but does little to revive interest in an artistically flagging franchise.
The Marked Ones focuses on Mexican American teen Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who, like all people afflicted by the titular paranormal activity, conveniently films his every activity. This mostly involves stupid Jack Ass-style pranks with his best mate Hector (Jorge Diaz). When they unwisely decide to snoop around the home of Jesse’s recently murdered downstairs neighbour, Jesse starts to undergo a disturbing transformation developing violent behaviours, superhuman strength and other strange powers. His weird metamorphosis appears to be linked to a wider supernatural conspiracy and possibly the previous paranormal hauntings.
Adopting the series well-worn template, The Marked Ones begins in light-hearted fashion subjecting us to the characters’ goof ball behaviour before introducing the ominous rumbling sound effects and spooky, violent disturbances. Because this formula is so familiar, this film has lost much of its power to shock. Still, there is a little life left in the old ghost as some scenes generate genuine tension and foreboding, particularly when the kids unwisely decide to sneak around the strange house that seems to be at the centre of the mysterious events. Even though the kids, like the Scooby Doo gang and all paranormal investigators, laughably go to the creepy house at night with no police assistance, there’s still a palpable sense danger as they’re separated and forced to flee through the dark.
With the emphasis on attempted shocks there’s little scope for character development in this film and Andrew Jacobs is merely perfunctory in the pivotal role of Jesse. As Jesse’s best buddy Hector, Jorge Diaz is extremely irritating, playing him as a motor-mouth numbskull. The combination of Hector’s idiotic behaviour and the manic hand-held camera movements is at times unbearable.
The Paranormal Activity films still have the power to elicit a few scares and popcorn showers in the audience but the series has just about run its course. There appears to be another sequel in the works but let’s hope the film makers don’t grind the memory of those early successes into the ground in the pursuit of cash.
Nick’s rating: **1/2.
Director(s): Christopher Landon.
Release date: 23rd Jan 2014.
Running time: 84 mins.