If your idea of a successful horror film is a series of setups followed by an equal number of perfunctory shocks and jump scares, then Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones will be a new favorite post-modern masterpiece. Even within its California barrio setting and desire to flesh out the entire PA mythology, this is still nothing more than a collection of scenes that either pay off with an expected jolt or another bit of overdone exposition. By the time this fifth installment does the mandatory shout-out to narrative threads past, you’ll no longer care, having been worn out by the hot and cold nature of the approach.
Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has just graduated from high school and wants to spend some time hanging out with his friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). Unfortunately, the weird woman living in the apartment below his grandmother makes traditional teen fun kind of difficult. When she dies (with the class valedictorian (Carlos Pratts) connected to the death), our trio turn detective. They break through the police tape and discover signs and indicating black magic and possible (human) sacrifices. Then Jesse develops an odd bite on his arm and starts acting weird. Eventually, his pals trace his problems to the witch coven of the third film, as well as a doorway which allows demons (and those possessed by same) to travel back and forth in time. Apparently, Jesse is now… a Marked One!
While the first film was a fluke, the Paranormal Activity property has tried to right the creepshow course over the last few chapters. Part Two was derivative while Part Three managed to make some sense out of the scattered backstory. Four, however, was horrid, and sadly so is this one. Changing the setting does little except pander to a more diverse demographic, and the cast are left holding a barf bag filled with jokes, screams, and explaining things to death. The first 40 minutes are like a retread of Project X, our buddies taking on their lower-income lives with tequila shots and escapes from angry gang members. The nonstop use of the camera is never explained, even when people are getting the crap beaten out of them, and the constant movement of the lens will give those who thought The Blair Witch Project was nauseating even more reason to lose their lunch.
At least Oren Peli’s original premise had the single camera surveillance novelty going for it. The Marked Ones is merely a retread of the dozens of dopey cinematic copycats that have come along since three annoying college kids wandered into the woods outside Burkittsville. There’s no suspense, no real building of tension. Instead, our cast sits around with a Simon game (apparently a Ouija board is too 1988) and asks it aggravating “Yes/No” questions. Toss in a couple of arguably effective moments (a sequence where Jesse magically appears and levitates as the contents of his living room go Satanic is nicely done) and lots of filler and you’ve got a first-to-the-box-office bungle that will make money if only because there is no other film out there to challenge it. (The studio’s decision to drop out of October 2013 — and Insidious Chapter 2‘s way — now makes a lot more sense.)
The easily entertained and the truly gullible will eat up Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones like the steaming pile of implausibility it is. Those with more discerning horror tastes will wonder how much longer this flimsy franchise will overstay its welcome. Judged by the response from those in my test audience, it will be a very long time indeed.