Hauntings, so we are told, follow patterns, spirits repeating in death the routines of their former life. So it would seem with the inexplicably successful Paranormal Activityseries of films, with four in the main sequence and a fifth in preparation for release later in 2014, and now an official spinoff (Tokyo Nights now disregarded as unofficial), repeating the same incidents in different variations in the manner of a child wishing to hear a favourite nursery rhyme before bed.
At eighty four minutes, even the drive by shooting running time does the film no favours with insufficient plot to fill a third of that length, and all of it predictable, generic and derivative, most obviously from the shared bare bones of the previous films whose principal behaviour was the decidedly normal activity of treading water. The only significant difference from those films is that where before the cast were primarily white and affluent, living in a suburb of large houses with multiple security cameras, The Marked Ones departs for the down and dirty streets of the Hispanic neighbourhoods of Oxnard, California.
Rather than using this to shift the perspective, telling a new tale through the eyes of those who have grown up in that close knit and deeply religious community where faith is a tangible daily experience, where icons decorate the walls and feature in the tattoos of gang members, instead it follows the template of found footage without inspiration or deviation, exhibiting a grudging and petulant refusal to innovate or challenge preconceptions. From the inevitable diminishing returns of dreariest of horror franchises, while it was anticipated that this film would be nothing other than bad, the only surprise it manages is that it is actually far worse than even the lowest expectation.
Recently graduated from high school, Jesse and Arturo spend their days on the streets of their town making fools of themselves, engaging in Jackass style stunts in their apartment block, playing with their dog, chasing girls, Arturo filming Jesse with an obsession which borders on the homoerotic, and harassing their elderly downstairs neighbour Anna and spying on her, lowering the camera through a ventilation shaft to unexpectedly reveal a naked girl having symbols drawn upon her flesh, possibly in blood, to their voyeuristic teenage delight.
When Anna is murdered and their friend Oscar is seen running from the scene, Jesse and Arturo break into the apartment and find a cupboard full of boxes of old videotapes, the top one conveniently marked “Katie and Kristi, 1988,” linking the events back to the characters of the first film. Chased from the apartment by an understandably angry relative, the boys return some days later with two girls they met at a party, one of whom, having crawled provocatively towards the camera ensuring her breasts are displayed for the audience, discovers a basement full of photographs of Jesse through childhood and his mother, who died giving birth to him, leading the pair to begin to investigate the cult known as the Midwives.
For the most part, The Marked Ones is a film for and about teenage boys with a specific slant towards the Hispanic market, not because that culture has influenced the story or is embraced by it, but because that is a demographic that has not yet been captured by the studio.
Taking drugs, breaking into crime scenes, removing evidence, withholding information from the police, on first name terms with local gangsters who conveniently travel with assault weapons in the back of their rides, the most interesting thing about the film is the intimation that the studio believes this is representative of the Latino audience whom they seek to court.
Any brave moves the film tries to make such as the refusal to subtitle much of the dialogue, particularly of Jesse’s grandmother who is the only enjoyable presence in the film, are undermined by the overwhelming selfish idiocy of the lead characters for whom it is impossible to care whether they live or die. When Jesse is attacked on the street, rather than attempting to help him, Arturo continues to video the incident; when they find contact details for Kristi’s stepdaughter they steal the slip of paper even though the details have just been recorded on camera, an action so unnecessary it begs the question who writer/director Christopher B Landon believes is more stupid, his characters or the audience.
While horror should be dangerous and unpredictable and it is an ongoing tragedy for the genre that films such as American Mary, The Lords of Salem, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh and John Dies at the End, which despite any failings they may have at least attempt to tell a new story, are consigned straight to DVD when Paramount and Blumhouse Productions are happy to continue charging money for old rope when it would be preferable that this particular franchise would use said rope to hang itself once and for all.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is now on general release