Directed by Christopher B. Landon, Starring Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, and Gabrielle Walsh
The first non-numbered sequel to the Paranormal Activity series was marketed as a spin-off, which is hard to buy into for a few reasons. First and foremost, Paranormal Activity is a franchise that has clearly established itself within the public consciousness, and The Marked Ones is far too samey to be seen as a different take. It uses the traditional camera tricks, brings back some old characters in a weird way, and somehow the ending circles back to the very first Paranormal Activity movie, making it a more direct sequel than the fourth installment in the franchise. I really do wish that it was more different, because the different parts were the most effective.
The most obvious change for The Marked Ones was in tone. This is, by far, the most comedic film in the franchise, and it was definitely for the best. The first two acts resemble Chronicle far more than any horror movie in recent memory, following a group of friends in which one of them receives strange superpowers that he cannot control, given to him by the paranormal demons. The characters are about as shallow as you would expect, but they collectively make up for that by being funny, likable, and having good chemistry with each other. The actors were as good as you could reasonably hope for from a found footage horror movie, especially Jorge Diaz as the best friend of main character Jessie. Diaz plays a rare force of a character: the Latino friend who is used as comic relief and is not annoying in any way. I genuinely laughed multiple times while watching this, and all in places where the filmmakers wanted me to laugh.
That aspect is doubly important because this horror movie contains nothing scary. Every single “pop” moment is predictable, and many are brought down by poor special effects and awful cinematography, which eventually resorts into fading to black so that a random image can brightly pop up on the screen. The movie reuses certain scares from its predecessors in a lazy way, and settles for ghostfaces and people falling from high places instead of binging forward a new concept. To be fair, the frights are bland and inoffensive, but not actively awful in the way that bad Paranormal Activity imitators are. The use of jump noises are thankfully toned down in this movie. They are still present, but they are far less prominent than they could have been, and many scenes use only natural sound as something creepy approaches.
While the slower and lighter approach helps to differentiate this movie from the many, many similar ones, and is largely responsible for why this grade is closer to neutral than outright awful, those same aspects make it a struggle to justify watching The Marked Ones. There are good aspects to the filmmaking, but no great scenes or notable scares. It remains an 80 minute movie that could stand to be a decent amount shorter, and the most entertaining portions to watch are also the least essential to the dull narrative, which doesn’t actually include any activity of the paranormal sorts until the second half. In the context of both the series and January horror movies as a whole, it can claim the distinction of being “not that bad”, but I’d hardly call it worth watching.