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Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones | D+
Can we finally ditch the “found footage” genre? What was novel 15 years ago with The Blair Witch Project and then revived by the surprise mega-success of the low-budget, high-grossing Paranormal Activity in 2007 has now become an immediate visual shorthand for dopey, low-rent scare tactics. You know the drill: A jittery handheld camera zips around a darkened room waiting for something to jump up and go “Boo!” You could get similar fright value by staying up late and flicking the lights on and off in your living room.
Of course, horror sequels are not traditionally known for their inventiveness or artistic integrity, especially when a series has reached its fifth installment. This quickie cash-in technically counts as a spin-off, with the official fifth Paranormal Activity due later this year, but the minor tweaks of the formula don’t make for enough of a distinction or improvement on the program. Director Christopher B. Landon ditches the regular slow-build surveillance camera approach where we wait for evil things to creep into the corner of a mundane frame, opting for a more nausea-inducing, first-person franticness.
Interestingly, the series’ tranquil suburbia has been exchanged for an East L.A barrio where the scariest inhabitants are the local gang-bangers. Aside from a few inadvertent run-ins, our heroes aren’t too worried about the street thugs, as teen homies-for-life Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) are more concerned with clowning around with their new Go-Pro camera and pulling sub-Jackass level pranks around the neighborhood. One night, while playing amateur voyeurs inside their apartment complex, the dudes get a peek at what appears to be some sort of bizarre sex ritual, a scene that takes on a macabre element when their creepy elderly neighbor is murdered. The lady, whom everyone called “bruja” (or witch) behind her back, was apparently into some seriously weird shit, and happened to serve as a de facto midwife for the community, including for Jesse’s late mother. Gradually our dimwit detective duo and their curvy pal Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) begin to uncover connections to a sinister satanic coven. In a cheeky nod to continuity, Hector stumbles on a box of videotapes chronicling the tragic fates of the doomed family members from the other PA flicks, which prompts the question: Who the hell is “finding” all this footage to begin with?
There could be something interesting to be done with an urban, Latino horror movie, complete with a different set of superstitions and cultural perspectives, but this isn’t that movie. There are smatterings of clever touches; the “Scooby Gang” is too suspicious of the law to call the cops, and there’s a funny, botched exorcism ritual involving eggs. But eventually it all degenerates into the same old, same old demonic shenanigans. The climax, set in a familiar haunted house, is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the ending of the third film, with winks to the others, revealing the utter, cash-grabbing desperation of an already dubious franchise. The truly terrifying part is that the audience for this kind of trash doesn’t care.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is rated R, has a running time of 84 minutes and is in theaters now.