MOVIE REVIEW: ‘Paranormal Activity’ spinoff succeeds where others have failed

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First Posted: 1/3/2014

My idea of the perfect horror movie is like an episode of “Scooby Doo” but with much more defenestration and full frontal nudity (female and male, you bigots). So, in essence, I really have no business writing what I’m about to write, but here it is anyway: I’ve always hated the “Paranormal Activity” series. Hated! What’s the appeal of watching rich white people bicker endlessly as something vaguely scary happens somewhere in the background (but only if you look very carefully)?

The “Paranormal Activity” films aren’t horror movies; they’re “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” crossed with “Where’s Waldo?” only far more pretentious and boring. This is why I was dreading the arrival of “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” but, surprisingly, “The Marked Ones” moves quickly, contains a handful of genuinely chilling moments, and isn’t afraid to get a little goofy or knowingly dumb from time to time. In other words, it has nothing in common with the other “Paranormal Activity” films.

Simultaneously functioning as a sequel to and a spin-off of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, “The Marked Ones” thankfully discards the lily-white suburban aesthetic of the previous entries by setting the film within Oxnard, California’s Latino community. In other notable firsts, the film also manages to give us a cast of characters that are likable, notably the two stars of our film, Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz, a pair of teenagers in the golden years of their adolescence who love to sled down stairways in laundry hampers, force dogs to dance jauntily against their will, and spy on their weird, nude elderly neighbor.

Of course, that weird, nude elderly neighbor also happens to be a witch who not only has sinister designs on Jacobs but recently turned the local high school valedictorian into a whirling dervish of pure evil. Eventually, Jacobs becomes possessed, and even though his demonic abilities give him the Weeble-like ability to never fall down and converse with a game of Simon, they soon get the best of him when it causes him to yell at people in a convenience store and force a dog to dance jauntily on the ceiling against its will. Thankfully, all of this is resolved in that typically hopeful and cheerful way that all the “Paranormal Activity” films end (Ha ha! I’m just kidding. This doesn’t end well for anybody. Especially any dog that’s forced to dance against its will).

Make no mistake about it – the premise behind “The Marked Ones” is conventional and overly familiar. It’s the kind of horror film where nothing is surprising and even the fake scares are carefully telegraphed. Yet, oddly enough, the film seems to thrive under this generic structure mainly because it effectively sheds the pretense that it’s a horror entry in the Dogme 95/Mumblecore canon. Even though “The Marked Ones” is just another horror movie, it’s a horror movie that can’t help but make lovably stupid choices.

“The Marked Ones” doesn’t just dabble with time travel or blatantly rip off the plot to “Chronicle,” it also climaxes with a showdown between a couple of gangbangers and a coven of witches that somehow manages to be surprisingly creepy yet incredibly silly. Obviously, “The Marked Ones” is garbage, but it’s the kind of garbage that is neither boring nor painful to sit through. Besides, what else are you going to do? It’s January and your entertainment choices are now limited to watching this movie, staring wistfully out of a window, or regretting Christmas. Choose wisely, America.

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