Despite fresh premise, spinoff can’t resurrect played-out found-footage franchise
Back in early 2007, the horror-film message boards were crackling with anticipation over a couple of found-footage entries awaiting a distributor: an American haunted-house chiller called Paranormal Activity and a Spanish zombie thriller called [Rec]. Both were described by independent festival viewers as the scariest damned things they’d seen in years.
Later that year, the former (a $15,000 freshman effort by Oren Peli) hit the big screen and delivered back to Paramount almost $200 million in international box-office sales. Its release also revealed that the movie was mostly a ho-hum affair, with an annoying yuppie couple sitting in front of a couple of static cameras yapping at each other over the course of an hour and a half; freaking out over weird noises in their new digs; ignoring common sense to get the futz out; and doing boneheaded things like pulling out a Ouija board—until finally the thing is wrapped up with a fairly decent jolt. While I admire that Peli took 15 grand and got a better return than his multimillion-dollar competitors, it just wasn’t a very good horror film.
[Rec] turned out to be vastly superior in every aspect but warranted only a DVD release in the States, and a piss-poor American remake for the subtitle-averse called Quarantine. And so it goes.
A handful of cash-in sequels later, we end up with a spinoff for the Paranormal Activity franchise called The Marked Ones. While it is marginally more interesting than the first entry, it’s still not a good horror movie. It’s not a total wash, though. It is nice to see a horror film with a Latino cast, even though the characters are mostly defined by The Big Book of Ethnic Stereotypes. Despite that, they are mostly endearing, as here we have a camera dropped in the laps of young Jesse and his friends just as their neighborhood bruja (for those too lazy to Google, that’s “witch” in Spanish) is gunned down by a possessed schoolmate downstairs. So off they go with the camera to investigate—which leads to more than a few occasions when real people would have dropped the camera and left dust in their tracks.
There is an uptick in the paranormal activity here, but current franchise shepherd Christopher Landon has a woeful eye for narrative, continuity and especially for maintaining the vérité aspect of the found-footage aesthetic. The story here is ill-suited for that approach anyway, as it becomes increasingly absurd that the characters keep rolling tape.
Storywise, Landon cribs from better found-footage movies (mostly Chronicle) but doesn’t find an interesting way to tie it all together. Ultimately, The Marked Ones delivers with a couple of good jolts, but isn’t particularly scary. And with a $5 million budget for this installment, one wonders where all that money went. It looks just as cheap as its $15,000 antecedent.