If you want to feel old in movie terms, realize this – there is an entire generation of teenagers that has grown up since Scream, with a whole bunch of different horror tropes. This will become readily apparent when viewing Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, as its cast of recent high-school graduates drink, smoke weed, say “I’ll be right back” a lot, and attempt to have sex in a dead witch’s house. They presumably know from their movies that you should always do what dolls on tricycles tell you, and that rigging the house with cameras is asking for trouble, but they never got told the obvious stuff because their media was trying to avoid the cliches of mine. Ironically, then, embracing the older ones is actually an original move.
Then again, this is a Paranormal Activity movie, and thus everyone is pretty much fucked from the getgo (if that’s a spoiler to you at this point, you weren’t going to go see it anyway). So why shouldn’t they have some fun first?
|Satan loves it when thread comes out of your eye, for some reason.|
The most important thing to note about this movie is that, while it is indeed effectively a sequel (despite their calling it a spin-off) and continues the storylines, it’s also very different from its predecessors. Characters go outside! There are jokes! It’s no longer about the problems of rich, white homeowners! There are obviously digital effects! At this stage there seems little point to even retaining the found-footage gimmick, aside from it being the only remaining gimmick; at least these characters do occasionally put the camera down when shit gets real.
Our main characters this time are L.A. teens Jesse (newcomer Andrew Jacobs) and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz, mostly known for TV work), who come into possession of a nice new camera as a graduation gift, and initially use it to film stupid pranks, hoping to make a viral video. But when they get creative and try to use it to see what the strange noises are in the apartment below, where a woman rumored to be a witch lives, things get…interesting. Jesse awakens one morning to a bite mark on his arm, and soon thereafter begins developing supernatural abilities – his strength is amplified, and he appears to be magically protected from falling down. But it’s an addiction metaphor – the initial high is followed by dangerous bursts of rage, and uncomfortable side effects. Meanwhile, there’s still something spooky in said apartment below.
|All these scares are gonna give this movie a black eye…or two.|
Many of the flick’s tricks are familiar – there’s a fakeout early on that I imagine 90% of the audience will see coming, just because it’s that time of the movie. But there’s also a better distribution of, let’s call them money shots – this isn’t one of those tedious mystery films where it soon becomes obvious that they’re stalling and saving the one big reveal for the end. Speaking of the end, though, you’re going to want to brush up on your PA mythology to prepare – I’m fairly familiar with it and I’m still not absolutely certain where the final scene fits in the grand puzzle – like the Saw series before it, this creature is starting to devour its tail a tad.
Writer-director Christopher Landon, a producer on the previous two installments and possibly the whitest-looking guy ever to be directing anything referred to as “the Latino spin-off,” is clearly well versed in the found-footage subgenre – this could as easily be a spinoff to Chronicle or The Blair Witch Project, given its resemblances to both. But he pulls off what is key to movies like this, delivering believable characters you can care about, as well as at least two brilliant bits of planting and payoff, where something casually referenced early on becomes essential later. Note that bilingual audiences will appreciate the movie the most, as there is lots of unsubtitled Spanish spoken, though little of it is essential to getting the point.
|The Deathly Hallows symbol was never the same after Harry broke the wand.|
What the movie isn’t – and this may be a problem, given the genre – is especially scary. It’s more like a traditionally fun horror movie than the slowburn suspense of its fellow franchise entries. I’m not scared of CGI things under the skin, but when the movie briefly turns into Witches vs. Gangbangers (jump on that, Asylum), I am extremely amused, as was the entire screening audience.
My initial complaint, as the credits rolled, was that the main characters were really quite stupid, messing with things they didn’t understand long after plenty of warning indicators were obvious. But then the movie gets into its mythology, and we’re reminded that there was destiny and prenatal planning and nothing they could have done to avoid it anyway. If the series continues, as it surely will, they need to give us some sense that there might be a way to stop the demon – it’s killing the tension right now by being so all-powerful.