We should be talking about the end of the Paranormal Activity franchise right now, not its rebirth. The unquestioned "found footage" king has been dominant atop the horror field ever since the first film revolutionized the genre, some say for the better, others for the absolute worst. And for the most part each film has maintained a certain level of mediocre consistency, with only Paranormal Activity 3 really daring anything new from a visual standpoint. And then you hear that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a "Latino spinoff" and the warning bells start going off. Are they so bereft of fresh ideas that simply tossing a few Latinos into the mix is going the best that be come up with?
It turns out that leaving behind the comfy suburban culture of white Los Angelenos is exactly the jolt this franchise needed, and Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones may be the best since the first film. That's not to say it's really all that scary; most of the frights follow the familiar cadence we've come to expect; but there's no denying moving the action to the gang-filled streets of Oxnard has given the film a different texture, one where the victims are more capable of fighting back. Nope, this isn't another one where the possessed stumble around digging through books or wondering blankly what's going on, there's action throughout that keeps things moving at a brisker pace.
It's almost a shame that the film has been tagged as the Latino Paranormal Activity film because it gives the impression it's not truly part of the canon. Nothing could be further from the truth. Everything we've seen in the prior movies has an impact here, and for those who have been following closely there are some cool callbacks to earlier frights. The cast is made up largely of unknowns, with Andrew Jacobsen taking the lead as Jesse, a teen recently graduated from high school. He seems like a pretty good, albeit more than a little mischievous, and has an obvious love for his family, particularly his superstitious grandmother and sister. Because this is Paranormal Activity you know someone has just figured out how a camera works, and this time it's Jesse's pal Hector (Jorge Diaz). After a classmate starts acting strangely, and the weird woman living in the apartment downstairs turns up dead, Jesse is discovers what looks like a bite mark on his arm. Not only does he begin to act differently, but it also gives him unbelievable powers, and for a while the film starts to take on the tone of a darker superhero origin similar to Chronicle. But that doesn't last long, and soon we're up to our necks in witches' covens and gang-bangers.
It's important not to delve too much into the plot because one thing these movies deserve credit for is weaving a fairly intricate continuity, and 'The Marked Ones' is no different. Considering there was never meant to be a second film in the first place it's quite remarkable what they've been able to achieve, even if those storyline threads start to become a little fuzzy the further we get from the original movie and the infamous "Katie demon". There are more obvious attempts at humor this time; perhaps because of the teen male-dominated cast; and a certain electronic memory game hilariously becomes an impromptu Ouija board. Coming off the inventive stylistic choices of the previous directors, new helmer Christopher Landon's approach may seem a touch traditional, but it's actually new to the franchise. Gone are the grainy overnight sequences that have been played out for quite some time, and in their place is a truly free and open world, one that takes us outside of the home and into the neighborhood. And as we see pretty often, just being out on the streets has its own dangers that have nothing to do with the supernatural.
The formal Paranormal Activity 5 will hit theaters later this year, but it will have a tough time surpassing Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones which proves the franchise is a long way from dead and buried.