Directed by: Christopher Landon
R. 84 mins
The fifth in a dying series – pardon the pun – continues to use the found-footage gimmick in combination with an uninspired plot, making for a highly pedestrian exercise in thriller-by-numbers. This time around, audiences are transported away from LA estates to the semi-urban streets of Oxnard, California. In this Latino neighborhood, we meet Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) who soon discovers that he is designated for possession by the same demon who previously claimed Kristi and Katie (sisters who have been the sole anchors in the haphazardly structured series). One of the positive changes, and there are very few, is the setting; a place where multiple generations of family often live under the same roof, where Jesse’s neighbors are close enough that he can hear an alleged ‘bruja’ (witch) through the vent in his bedroom. In this neighbourhood, the presence of demons is much more insidious than the secluded upper middle-class houses, separated by winding roads and tall fences. While it’s exciting to see a hugely successful franchise take on an almost entirely Latino cast, along with a more humorous approach to the bleak premise, almost everything that made the original film by Oren Peli so fresh and disturbing is reduced to a formula here.
Christopher Landon wrote and directed this spin-off/sequel and co-wrote three of the previous entries, though he doesn’t seem to know, or care, about answering any questions. This time around, the supernatural is out in the open with murders committed in the apartment below, hidden chambers filled with occult objects and even a young man who defies the laws of physics, with no visits to the doctor of course. Once more, we are missing the simplicity of the bumps in the night and the creaking doors that made 2007’s instalment so terrifying and so believable. Nothing that happens on screen is something audience members have personal experience with and the brilliance of Paranormal Activity was that it provided an explanation for the noises we’ve all heard in the middle of the night. Now, the series is so bogged down in it’s sordid mythology that the divide between the spirit world and our own is painfully clear. The found footage technique, which often provides the feeling of truth and authenticity to a story – no matter the genre – is useless when the plot itself is so ridiculous that it verges on science fiction. Granted, there are a few scares and a final act that will put a smile on the face of any fans of the franchise, but overall this film just isn’t as creepy as it should be.
This film is both mean-spirited (Jesse’s grandmother and dog are injured at one point or another, but we never hear from them after the camera has lingered for far too long on their tortured bodies) and misogynistic (could it be Jesse’s friend Marisol, who is treated as an afterthought but so clearly possesses the only sense within the group? Or could it be the fact that the audience is subjected to Jesse and his best friend Hector engaging in conversations that continuously objectify women? At one point, the boys try to turn their witchy neighbours apartment into a loveshack after they meet two girls at a party who have been drinking all night and are, as Hector says, “so ready [to hook up]” Whatever it is, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is not good; the fifth instalment is more graphic and less effective than it’s spooky counterparts.