It was the poet Christopher George Latore Wallace – you may know him better by his nom du hip-hop, Notorious B.I.G. – who said it best: “Mo’ money, mo’ problems.”
Biggie wasn’t rapping about the Paranormal Activity franchise, but he could have been. The series that began as a breath of fresh air with 2007’s indie horror Paranormal Activity (its $15,000 budget probably wouldn’t cover a week of craft services on a movie like The Avengers) has morphed into a cash-printing machine for Paramount Pictures, doomed to pump out comparatively larger-budget instalments on an annual basis.
That’s the mo’ money. The problems come from the series trying to find new ways to one-up itself while cleaving to its increasingly silly found-footage formula.
Which brings us to Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, in theatres now. Technically it’s a spinoff that was initially designed to be targeted at Latino audiences, although given how the series has hopscotched between characters, locations and time periods, there’s no reason why this couldn’t have been a straight-up sequel.
The Marked Ones introduces us to a tight-knit family in Oxnard, Calif., where 18-year-old Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and his bestie Hector (Jorge Diaz) are celebrating graduation in the summer of 2012. When the weird old lady who lives in the unit below is murdered, apparently by a classmate of Jesse and Hector’s, they can’t help but investigate her sealed-up, creeptacular apartment.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, bad things then start to happen.
To his credit, writer/director Christopher B. Landon (Disturbia) isn’t taking this too seriously. The first half hour of the movie is surprisingly light and charming, as we get to know Jesse, Hector and Jesse’s cute cousin Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh.)
But when Jesse wakes up the morning after their Scooby adventure with an oozing bite mark on his arm, he discovers he has a supernatural guardian angel that grants him telekinetic powers (all the better to make rad skateboarding videos!) and who speaks to Jesse not through a Ouija board, but an old-school Simon electronic game. I’m not making that up.
As Jesse grows ever more powerful, cruel and distant – you know your bro has lost it when he’s levitating the family Chihuahua – Hector and Marisol desperately try to figure out what the nature of Jesse’s curse is, and how they can stop it. All while apparently filming their every waking moment, even during a shotgun battle against a coven of witches. Not making that up, either.
But fans know exactly what they’re in for when going to a Paranormal Activity movie, and in that respect The Marked Ones delivers. There are plenty of eye-tricking shadows and sphincter-tightening jump scares, and while the film links to pretty much all of the previous Paranormal Activity instalments through plot devices and character cameos, the ending is designed as a pure blast of fan service. At the screening I attended, when the finale locale was revealed, there were audible gasps of “no way!” from the audience.
Dumb, funny, sometimes creepy, and hooked nicely into the Paranormal Activity mythos – The Marked Ones is just trying to keep that money pump primed until Paranormal Activity 5 hits this Halloween. Or to paraphrase Biggie once more, it’s a franchise that’s just sitting there, tryin’ to win and tryin’ not to sin.