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After low-budget thriller Paranormal Activity earned over $100 million on a $15,000 budget, distributor Paramount churned out sequels annually for the next three years. Paranormal Activity 4 was a critical dud and earned far less than its predecessors, so the powers that be gave the franchise a year off before expanding the story beyond the expected haunted-house thrills with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. The SoCal setting and multicultural cast are a nice change from the previous suburban terror, but The Marked Ones is still a fading facsimile of the slow burn, shaky camera buildups and "what-the-hell" climaxes of earlier films. Producers Jason Blum and Oren Peli did a surprisingly decent job taking the standalone story from Peli's original and threading it through five films, but the goings-on here don't always make sense. And then there's the finale, which has all the subtlety of rubberneckers passing by a multiple-fatality wreck. The rest is just boring, and the Paranormal Activity series finds itself in need of new tricks.
Fresh high-school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and buddy Hector (Jorge Diaz) observe strange, cultish activity from the apartment below Jesse's, where "crazy lady" Anna (Gloria Sandoval) lives. When Anna is murdered, the suspect is a classmate of Jesse and Hector, and they enlist friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) to help get to the bottom of the mystery. Anna's apartment is full of occult symbols and references, and Jesse finds a picture of himself. What do the three young detectives do next? They construct a black mirror and attempt to open a portal into another dimension. Nothing happens at first, of course, but Jesse begins to notice some strange side effects after the seance.
I want to discuss the merits of The Marked Ones, but I need to get into SPOILER territory to do so. You've been warned. These films have gradually revealed a story about a demon and the coven of witches it uses to enact evil on earth. Katie (Katie Featherson) from the first film was sold to the demon at an early age, and finally succumbed to his influence in that film's finale. The witches were revealed in later films, and The Marked Ones further ties them to the demon while expanding the action away from the Katie/Kristi story of earlier films. Jesse has also been "marked" by the witches thanks to some unfortunate family ties, and will be used as a vessel for the demon. There were times during each of these films that I didn't know what the hell was going on, and I increasingly didn't care.
The no-name actors have to carry the film for over an hour without any real tension from the script. The opening reels are dull, and the most excitement comes when Jesse proves unaffected by gravity's pull while horsing around at home. We all know where this is going, but The Marked Ones takes so long to get to its ridiculous climax that I had all but tuned out by the start of the second hour. There are a few jump scares, achieved by a blistering audible stinger over the surround speakers, but everything has been recycled from earlier films. There are far less jolts per hour in The Marked Ones than in any of the previous four films, and that's not a good thing.
The climax reminds viewers that none of this would be possible without the impressive original. Less a tribute than a blatant rehash of that film's finale, The Marked Ones travels back to Casa de Katie and Micah for no reason other than to trigger a reaction from the audience. This isn't an espionage thriller, and I didn't need to see the same events from every possible angle. If this series ever wants to move forward then it will have to stop getting stuck in the past. Director Christopher B. Landon does his best to inject some humor into the proceedings, but The Marked Ones is largely a dour affair.
This is a found-footage film, and the 1.78:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer looks exactly like the HD-cam source footage at its heart. There's lots of digital noise and crushing blacks; blown out highlights and jagged edges. That's the point. Detail is adequate, clarity is pretty good in daylight, and this image looks as the filmmakers intended.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is largely front-loaded to mimic the handheld source, but there are a few moments that effectively utilize the surround speakers and subwoofer. Dialogue is reasonably clear and without hiss, and some ambient noise, like footsteps and door creaks, wafts through the rear speakers. Those aforementioned audible stingers are mixed WAY high, so expect the subwoofer and surrounds to shriek in unison. French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy, and both iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are packed in an eco-case, which is wrapped in a cool lenticular slipcover. The Blu-ray includes both the 84-minute theatrical cut and a 104-minute unrated version. As is normal for these films, the only extra is a reel of Found Footage (10:47/HD).
The extra year in gestation didn't do much for Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which expands the story with a group of SoCal teenagers but spins its wheels reimagining events from earlier films. The build-up is boring, the climax derivative, and the scares are few and far between. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.