The Spin-Off that Killed a Franchise
Main cast: Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz
Director: Christopher Landon
Over the years, I’ve taken my wife to some pretty horrible movies. And for the most part she’s been very forgiving. But leaving the theater after seeing Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, she made it pretty clear this was the last PA movie she was going to.
The movie, the fifth in the series, is considered the first–and only–spin-off of the main series of movies. It’s connected, but we’re removed from the California–or in the case of PA4, Nevada–suburbs we’ve seen so far, and instead are in a small Latin community in Oxnard in 2012.
We’re introduced to Jesse Arista (Andrew Jacobs) as he graduates high school and receives a small video camera as a graduation present. Jesse and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) begin videotaping everything, which makes it much easier to get the events on film when Jesse’s downstairs neighbor Ana, whom everyone in the apartment complex thinks is a witch, is performing what looks like a ritual in her apartment. Jesse and Hector hear noises coming from downstairs and they lower the camera into the air vent to spy. What they see excites and disturbs them: Ana has a naked woman in her apartment, and she’s painting a strange symbol on the woman’s stomach.
Later, Ana is murdered, and Jesse and Hector decide to break into her apartment and look for clues. The only thing of substance they find is an old journal full of information on witches, and a box of old videotapes marked KATIE AND KRISTI. I admit this detail confused me because the videotapes were revealed to have been stolen from Kristi’s house in PA3, but how did they wind up in Oxnard 6 years later in the possession of this old woman?
One morning after dreaming of more old women at some farmhouse (PA3), Jesse finds what looks like a bite mark on his arm. From this point, he’s been marked, and is being protected by some invisible force. He tries to fall down, and something catches him in midair. He’s attacked at the park by thugs and something throws them through the air, off of Jesse. At first, he and Hector see this as some incredible gift, but soon Jesse’s personality begins to shift and he’s short tempered, arrogant, and even tells Hector “We’re not best friends.”
Through a series of clues they’ve been following, Hector and another friend, Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), track down Ali Rey (Kristi’s step-daughter, once again played by Molly Ephraim, from PA2), who tells them about a coven called the Midwives who brainwash young women into promising their first born sons to them so they can be possessed by demons. And, as Jesse discovered earlier, Ana and Jesse’s mother–who died giving birth to him–knew each other.
Was everything that’s happening to Jesse predetermined while he was still in the womb? It’s beginning to feel like it.
The Marked Ones, if I’m not mistaken, was supposed to be the first in a series of spin-off movies that would, presumably, expand on the PA universe and the mythology of the witches and the demons they seek to raise. Unfortunately, this movie got panned so badly, they only made one more PA movie, and even that was given a very limited theatrical release. Which I think is unfortunate.
I like the idea of spin-off movies and sequels. I think the idea behind these movies is so strong, the possibilities for where to take it as the story progresses could be endless. I think the problem The Marked Ones ran into was 1) it wasn’t the world everyone was used to and expected (when you think about it, how many movies produce spin-off movies set in the same world? Television, sure, but movies?), and 2) all the previous movies came up with original and plausible explanations for why everything is being recorded around the clock. But for this movie, Jesse and Hector are just walking around the neighborhood, playing ball, going to the store, going to parties, and hooking up with chicks, all with this little handheld camera on, constantly recording. It’s just not plausible, especially in this neighborhood where Jesse and Hector almost get jacked out in the open on a public playground. They see the thugs coming toward them, and Hector just stands there and keeps recording while they demand Jesse hand over his backpack and then start beating him up?
Not likely. And I think the audience understood that and called bullshit. I mean, the series as a whole is kind of … outlandish at a certain point, but we’re able, for the most part, to suspend enough disbelief to make it to the end without too many eye rolls. I think The Marked Ones just couldn’t come up with a good way to continue with the found footage conceit, so writer/director Christopher Landon (writer of PA2, 3, and 4) just threw up his hands and said, you know what, this kid got a video camera for graduation and he’s gonna use it constantly, problem solved.
Well, I think we see now, problem was most definitely not solved.
I dug the performances enough here, though. Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz have good chemistry as best friends, and Jacobs goes through enough changes as Jesse to show off some good range.
The rest of the cast is inconsequential as none of them are given enough screen time, nor enough to do with what little time they have to make much of an impression. Even their other friend, Marisol, who is it suggested is part of Jesse and Hector’s core group, is barely around until act 3, where she spends most of her time in an agitated state because of what’s happening with Jesse.
But that’s okay, because Jacobs and Diaz are strong enough here that they can carry the bulk of the movie themselves.
The effects this time are more involved, and there were several more jump scares than any other previous installment–three really effective ones just in the last ten minutes of the movie.
Oh, and about that ending.
Well. Okay, so most people are going to absolutely HATE this ending, which I’m not going to spoil except to say most people are going to absolutely hate it. But if you thought ANY part of this series was ridiculous, you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen the last few minutes of The Marked Ones. What. Ever, man. In a series as “out there” as this one, you HAVE to keep it as grounded in reality as possible, but this movie just says to hell with all that noise and throws in a curve that, as far as I can tell, has NOTHING to do with the plot of either this movie or the franchise as whole, and serves no purpose whatsoever except to give this movie the most WTF ending of the series so far.
For me, though, that’s not enough to put me off the series. I looked every so often, hoping to see news of the next movie and was thrilled when I finally found it. I just like found footage ghost movies. I’d watch PA movies for the next 30 years if they kept making them. Unfortunately, they only made one more which everyone insists is the LAST one. Well, until the inevitable reboot. We’ll see.