Viewer beware, you are entering into the lost land of imagination, after the warmth of Hollywood’s carefully placed and critically lauded hits have faded and you settle down to bed, intending to hit up the cineplexes over the next few weeks for a bit of catch-me-up before all those award shows hit, and upon scanning the listings, have the horrifying misfortune of seeing the new releases. It has arrived: January, Hollywood’s graveyard of zombie franchises.
And what better to start the toss off into lonely auditoriums than a new spin-off of the wildly successful Paranormal Activity series. The Marked Ones has all the warning signs of a train wreck: they’ve stopped numbering the iterations, the release was pushed back from the franchise’s annual holding space as the go-to Halloween movie, and except for a couple announced cameos, it’s dropping the lineage of the previous installments in favor of a brand new cast. You could almost say it was… marked… for failure?
Except I basically had all that written before I’d seen it. It’s actually a lot of fun, and if you’re getting tired seeing the giants of Hollywood clash over golden figurines, you might as well jump in for the ride.
Helmed by franchise writer Christopher Landon, The Marked Ones follows Jesse and Hector, two best buds recently graduated from high school, staving off boredom in their run-down apartment complex by toying around with the new camera Jesse’s received for graduation. Between smoking pot and pranking each other, the two manage to start poking their camera into places they don’t belong and end up finding a strange ritual they don’t understand performed by Anna, the old woman downstairs, who they quickly decide must be some bruja.
Which isn’t really enough to distract them from setting off fireworks and other shenanigans, until Carlos the school valedictorian shows up and offs the old lady in a spectacular manner while Jesse notices a strange mark appear on his wrist, not to mention suddenly acquires spectacular abilities of strength and levitation. Which is all well and good for his YouTube channel until strange noises start upsetting the electronics and his behavior starts to get weird.
From there it’s all exorcisms and shaky cam as Jesse and friends venture progressively deeper into lower levels of the bruja’s hellhole and even follow up on trying to find what caused Carlos to go loco. Ali Rey makes her appearance to provide tie-in and exposition, and the audience tries to tell the characters what not to do as they immediately proceed to do precisely that.
However what makes the movie really roll is the friendship between Hector, played by Jorge Diaz, and Jesse, the headlining Andrew Jacobs. As horror protagonists, they do predictably stupid things, but as Latino teenagers just trying to spend their last summer together and get laid, they’re those really goofy guys you know from that one party we don’t talk about.
Like how a good children’s movie will provide some references that will go over the head of the kiddos so that the adults can have a laugh, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones contains enough bumps, screeches, and scratches to keep the 14 year olds on edge while using the same elements of surprise and shock for some rather good slapstack pratfalls and screwball Spanglish. The found footage style lets the story jump cut and fast forward through all the boring stuff until Hector manages to get the neighborhood gangsters to pull out the big guns (literally) and it’s all Cholos versus Brujas in some empty plastic-and-dust mansion somewhere up in mapped but unmarked gringo territory.
It’s worth the price of admission as long as you allow your b-movies to be packaged in a brand name. The Paranormal Activity series has managed to keep a legitimate cult following from its beginnings as an actually independent breakout hit through its progressively commercial sequels (and prequel), and The Marked Ones indicates that the filmmakers are willing to expand the world and make it playful.