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Movie Review: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Delivers A Decent Story and Good Characters

by Bob Garver

Jan. 6, 2013. I have to wonder why the new “Paranormal Activity” movie is coming out now instead of October. The franchise had carved out a nice little niche as an annual Halloween tradition (thankfully replacing those disgusting “Saw” movies) and I don’t know why anyone would want to mess with that.

Did the filmmakers miss their deadline? Did the studio not want to compete with that lousy “Carrie” update for Halloween horror crowds? Or after 2012’s Paranormal Activity 4″ barely made $50 million, did they think people had just lost interest in the franchise? I saw the movie in a crowded theatre with lots of loud, excited people. There is clearly still interest.

The release date may be bafflingly different from the rest of the series, but the film itself isn’t. It’s still “found footage” of a gradual demonic possession. The only difference this time is that the main characters are a group of teenagers instead of a family and it’s pretty much all handheld camera footage as opposed to wall-mounted cameras. This means that the film can’t do the standard “cut between four cameras” device, which is sorely missed.

The story follows some recent high school graduates, including Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). The kids take an interest in their elderly neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval) who is suspected of being a witch.

And when I say, “take an interest,” I mean that they gossip, call her names and sneak a camera into her apartment so they can spy on an unholy ceremony with promises of nudity. Their curiosity increases further when Anna is murdered by formerly mild-mannered classmate named Oscar (Carlos Pratts) who seems to have been affected by something otherworldly. They go snooping in her abandoned apartment and Jesse wakes up the next morning with a weird bite mark. Strange things start happening with Jesse and we know no good can come of it. 

Fans of the franchise know what to expect: some funny false alarms, some suspicious stuff, some acts undeniably perpetrated by the forces of evil and of course a bunch of heart stopping jump scares. Unique to this film are scenes of Jesse having fun with his supernatural affectations- shades of 2012’s underrated “Chronicle.”

The kids themselves are pretty agreeable characters, even if they’re a little too mischievous for their own good. Even Oscar’s dangerous gang member brother (Richard Cabral) isn’t as standoffish as one might expect; the film could have actually used more of him. I do have to question the film’s decision to have the kids communicate with an otherworldly being using the electronic game Simon. I think these scenes are supposed to be simultaneously silly and creepy, but in actuality they’re all the way silly. 

If you’re hoping that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” will do something drastically different from the other “Paranormal Activity” movies, you will be disappointed. But if you’re not sick of the franchise by now, this will probably make for another fun go-around. 

Still, I wonder why we have to put up with all of these changes that undermine a winning formula. Why can’t the film open at Halloween? Why can’t it cut between cameras? Why is there a colon in the title when “Paranormal Activity 5” would have been just fine?

There’s a good built-in audience for this movie and there will be a good built-in audience for “Paranormal Activity 6” if it’s given a chance. The box office performance of this film is going to be underwhelming (it only made $18 million in the first weekend, down from $29 million for the fourth film), I just hope the lesson learned will be to return the franchise to its former glory instead of pushing it further.

Two stars out of five.