FEARNET Movie Review: 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones'

My preferred way of opening a review of a sequel is to quickly run through the whole franchise, just to bring us all to to speed and perhaps offer some perspective in regard to the latest chapter. But at this point the Paranormal Activity quartet just sort of congeals together into a blob that feels like Part 1 (with a lamer ending than I saw) followed by three similar films that all have their moments of creepiness, cleverness, creativity ... and talking. Lots and lots of talking. But what comes next after Paranormal Activity (2007), Paranormal Activity 2 (2010), Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), and Paranormal Activity 4 (2012)? Why, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, of course. A franchise isn't a franchise these days unless it's spewing out sequels *and* spinoffs.

But the movie is what matters, obviously, and if Blumhouse/Paramount want to keep giving me another "found footage" ghost story every year (this year we'll actually get two), I'm more than happy to devote 90 minutes to keep the relationship flourishing. And hey, get this: "The Marked Ones" might just be the coolest film in the series apart from the original Paranormal Activity!  As a "spin-off" it only briefly connects to the other films -- although the established fans will enjoy the way it does so -- and, to its credit, The Marked Ones heads off in its own direction.

(And don't ask me to explain how The Marked Ones ties in to the other Paranormal Activity movies. Those puzzle pieces are fun to discover on your own.)

Judged as its own beast, The Marked Ones is a nifty little "first-person" (aka found footage) horror flick / occult thriller about two recent high school graduates who discover that their creepy downstairs neighbor is a horrible witch of some variety. Eventually a murder takes place in the apartment complex, and that's when Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), Hector (Jorge Diaz), and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) discover that there's some seriously freaky behavior afoot. Ghosts? Witches? Demonic possession that allows its "victims" to experience fleeting spurts of super powers? Try "all of the above," and for a flick so simple in the way it delivers its character development, plot exposition, and basic first-act cliches, there's also a good deal of creepy craftsmanship on display here.

Writer/director Christopher Landon (a longtime producer on the franchise) gets through the plot stuff and character essentials with a noteworthy degree of energy and humor (the two lead actors certainly help), and when he focuses on the infinitely more appealing sequences involving shocks and suspense, he seems to be having some real fun with his horror flick. I don't care if a movie is a sequel, a remake, a rip-off, or a spin-off; if it seems evident that the director is having some fun during the "scary bits," there's a good chance that their enthusiasm will bleed out into the audience.

As mentioned, those who adore this whole series will enjoy the "easter egg"-style scenes that pop up once in a while (and the final scene is sort of a mind-bendingly weird treat), but those who are looking for a solid if unspectacular piece of found footage horror cinema, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones should fit the bill nicely. The scary stuff works, the characters are actually pretty likable, and the franchise mythology is given its fair due ...without overdoing it.