Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) Closes the Loop…Not

Jesse in Paranormal Activity 5
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the next in this long running franchise that started back in 2007 with a low/no budget production that starred largely unknown actors in a variation of the “found footage” genre. The first film, written and directed by Oren Peli was made for the staggering low price of $15k and, to-date, has grossed over $102 million. Peli bowed out after the first one, although he still gets credit in the writing area and as producer.

Out of the sequels, only Paranormal Activity 3 matched the first in the series, making over $102 million gross but the film’s production costs had skyrocketed to $5 million. While the franchise is still wildly successful, in terms of gross versus production costs, it has never reached the heights that the Peli original reached in terms of profit margin.

The film started with a young couple and then in Paranormal Activity 2 drifted to the young woman in the first film and her sister. Each film moves forward along the time line, until “4” where they go back to the girls childhood.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, besides moving into the barrio “Holmes,” jumps forward to blend in with the time of Paranormal Activity, the first one. Confusing yes, but overall, the plot device is unobtrusive and only really becomes apparent in the final frames of the film.

This version of the Paranormal verse has Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) who are best friends, getting involved with the verse and even though they find videos “Old School, Holmes” one says, they do not watch them. The tapes are found in the apartment of the woman that the two friends have a fixation on. Their downstairs neighbor Ana (Gloria Sandoval) who is the local Bruja (witch) and the target of Jesse’s pranks and imagination.

After videoing the woman painting a symbol on a naked pregnant woman’s stomach, things begin to go weird for Jesse. He develops powers and disturbing symptoms. Another lad, Oscar (played by Carlos Pratts), murders Ana, and then dies himself. Jesse and Hector enlist the help of Marisal (Gabrielle Walsh) and they discover a world where babies are marked for possession in the womb.

The trio ask Oscar’s brother, Arturo (Richard Cabral) to help them to stop what is happening to Jesse. The group turn up at the same house featured in “4” and Hector ends up in the house from the first in the series where Katie is killing Micah. This all seems to bring the film back to its beginning.

However, there is now another film, due out October 15, 2015 titled, Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and it looks like the verse is not done with sisters Katie and Kirsti. This franchise has turned into a veritable cash cow for anyone who wishes to continue the story.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (rather interesting for a title, presumably the producers thought that Paranormal Activity 5 was too obvious) could have closed the series off, even with its somewhat “open” ending. The sad truth is, the films do deliver well enough in the terms of scares and entertainment. Grossing enough profit for the filmmakers to justify their churning out more money making sequels till the public tire of them.

In this iteration of the verse, there are not many jump scare moments and the FX used in at least two of the scenes have been done elsewhere, V/H/S and Chronicle both used various versions of the flinging people about stunts seen here. While the film does boast a few original thoughts, the way it tells the story suffers from a sincere lack of creativity.

At one point, Jesse finds something in his eye, pulling the offending article out, it is revealed to be a long piece of black stuff. He then goes to pull the same item out of his other eye. As creepy and stomach churning as this scene is, it has been done before in countless J-Horror and Asian horror films.

Still, they must be doing something right as evidenced by the gross profits. Admittedly, the film does deliver, despite the lack of originality issues, and it is creepy and unnerving. Whether it is the combination of white noise and muffled roaring that precedes each event or just the camera angles and the storyline itself. The film works on one level or another.

For one thing, there are moments of humor, admittedly not many, but the scenes where Jesse discovers his “powers” prove to be quite funny. There are also moments that can best be described as uncomfortable, as when Jesse takes Hector and Marisa and gate crash a party. Although this too has at least one amusing moment.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is streaming on US Netflix at the moment and this is, perhaps, the best medium for watching this latest in the franchise. It is definitely not one to have seen in the cinema but it does work exceedingly well at home…in the dark…alone.

3.5 out of 5 stars despite its lack of originality.

Chronicle (2012): With Great Power Comes Great Problems

Directed and co-written by Josh Trank (Max Landis was the other writer on the film) Chronicle is a brilliant example of what film making should be.  The three actors who play the main protagonists in the film, Michael B. Jordan (Steve), Alex Russell (Matt), and Dane DeHaan (Andrew) really sell the film. It is not surprising though, Jordan and DeHaan have both been working for a while in the business and Jordan has been popular in television for some time now. Russell is the youngest in terms of screen time, but it does not show in his performance.

The Readers Digest version of the plot is as follows:

Andrew has started filming his life. Although as we initially get to know Andrew, we can only wonder why? Andrew is one of life’s social outcasts. His life, pretty much sucks. His mother is dying slowly and painfully from cancer. His dad is drinking to dull the pain of the expense of caring for and the eventual loss of his wife. Unfortunately a by-product of dad’s drinking is physical and verbal abuse of Andrew. At school Andrew is pretty much friendless except for his cousin Matt. He is a figure to be picked on by bullies and shunned by the girls in his school.

His cousin Matt invites Andrew to a Rave. The idea is for Andrew to meet more people and work on his social skills. Alas, Andrew meets the same personality types in the Rave as in his school. He is thrown out of the Rave along with his video camera.

He is approached by Steve, a friend of Matt’s, who asks Andrew to come and film something that he and Matt have found. What they have found is a hole in the ground that contains a large crystal-like object that exudes light and a humming sound. The three boys are affected by this crystal thing and it affects the camera as well. After apparently passing out the boys leave the crystal and the hole.

The boys discover that they can do special things since their encounter with the crystal.  Andrew who is filming everything, records the new ‘powers’ that the crystal has given them. The boys have seemingly developed super powers. They can fly, are pretty much impervious to pain, and can use telekinesis to control and move objects. Out of the three boys, it turns out that Andrew is the most capable and the strongest.

Andrew begins to change. Matt talks him into entering the school’s talent show. Andrew will use his powers to put on a magic act. Steve and Matt both help Andrew. The goal is to improve Andrew popularity at school. The plan seems to be working great until they go to a party after the talent show. Andrew disappears upstairs with a girl to ‘pop his cherry’ and it goes very badly. Andrew vomits on the girl and himself. Humiliated Andrew leaves the party.

Andrew’s Mother is getting worse and his father is becoming more abusive. These combine to make Andrew’s mood very dark indeed. He decides, in the depths of his misery that he is a Apex Predator and that he can harm or kill who ever he wants to.

This film caught my attention from the first frame and did not relinquish it until the final credits rolled. Trank and Landis have created a brilliant picture of what life is like from the viewpoint of a loser. They also show that being a loser has a lot to do with your state of mind, not just your circumstances. Andrew is one of life’s losers, so much so that even after he gets ‘super-powers’ he is unable to rise above the set backs he is presented with.

Andrew is so full of rage at the way his life is, he cannot accept that he alone change it. It makes his character just as doomed as if he had never gotten his super powers. Both Steve and Matt try repeatedly to help Andrew overcome his social ineptness and increase his popularity with everyone. Unfortunately Andrew is so bogged down in his misery that he never really stands a chance.

The film is brilliantly shot and the CGI is perfect. The scenes where the boys are first learning to fly and then mastering the skill of it are amazing. The entire film is helped by the Blair Witch  and Cloverfield approach. We the audience see everything through the lens of Andrew’s camera and it is done so well that we can really identify with Andrew and his frustration and anger. If I had to hazard a guess, I think the message that the film is trying to convey is this: No matter how much power you have, it means nothing if you can’t rise above yourself.

Chronicle is a brilliant film that enjoyed a positive reception from both critics and the audience. I would highly recommend seeing this just for the flying scenes alone.