A parallel story to the saga of the demon-possessed Kristi and Katie features the same general tone and shaky cam but different characters (for the most part) in the “Latino spin-off” to the Paranormal Activity movies.
What “Latino spin-off” means beats me, but mainstream American movies that feature Latino culture are still rare enough that I’ll take it.
Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) are two older teens who enjoy messing around with a video camera, pulling pranks such as the one that has Hector drawing a penis on a sleeping Jesse’s face and then filming him until he figures out that it’s there. Thusly, when they hear strange noises from the apartment below one night — the apartment where reputed bruja (witch) Anna (Gloria Sandoval) lives — they try to film whatever’s going on by snaking a camera through the duct work. What they catch is something odd, possibly part of some witchy business. Later, the boys are shooting off firecrackers outside when someone jumps from the roof and rushes past them. The someone is Oscar (Carlos Pratts), a friend from school, and he appears to have jumped from Anna’s apartment. When the police later find Anna dead, the boys are creeped out both because the murder happened right under where Jesse sleeps and because Oscar is the younger brother of a local gangster and they now have the footage that can implicate him in a crime.
But these more earthly concerns turn out to be the least of their worries, particularly for Jesse. After finding an odd bite on his arm and a strange thing in his eye, he finds himself changing in other ways. He appears to have a kind of super strength, but something spooky is seems to be following him.
The Marked Ones is a not-terrible, middle of the road addition to the Paranormal Activity brand. In some ways, this is still remarkable — it holds together much better than, say, the Saws that reached this number of sequels (technically, it’s the fifth Paranormal Activity movie although a movie actually called Paranormal Activity 5 is scheduled for release later this year). On the other hand, horror films — at least mainstream horror films — have been getting better. Look at the horror films that made it to the top 50 grossers of 2013: The Conjuring (18), Insidious Chapter 2 (41), Mama (47) and even The Purge (just over at 55). (I’m not counting zombie movies World War Z and Warm Bodies here because the latter was really more of a dystopic romance and the former was a hot mess.) I didn’t particularly love all of these but they all had more going on than just slashing and big whomping scores. “Not bad” may have pushed a horror flick to the top of the pack back in 2007 when the first Paranormal Activity came out, but The Marked Ones exists in a universe of fewer college girls in their underwear traipsing around the basements of dark cabins and more creepiness in the everyday, more plot, more women fighting back and more humor. The Marked Ones feels like a fairly lesser version of these new, more interesting horror films.
Still, though the movie has that “skating by” quality, I still found myself more engaged than not, more interested in the characters than not and impressed enough by the circle-back to previous movies that I didn’t leave feeling like I’d been robbed of 84 minutes. C+
Rated R for pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use. Written and directed by Christopher Landon, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is an hour and 24 minutes long and distributed by Paramount Pictures.