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Recent high school graduate, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), has been hearing horrifying sounds from his neighbor's apartment. When he and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) set out to uncover their source, they encounter an ancient evil that won't rest until it's claimed Jesse’s soul. (From Paramount’s official synopsis)

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Despite respecting their success as proof that independent filmmakers can still have a say at the box office, I am not a fan of the Paranormal Activity series. The first film was distractingly entertaining, I guess, but the gimmick wore thin before the final credits rolled. The annoying characters and lack of levity wore even thinner throughout successive movies – movies that, for some reason, decided they needed to stick to an internal mythology and continuity. Instead of building a franchise around the basic concept of viewing surveillance video of supernatural entities, the series’ creators trapped audiences with the same characters and same demon/ghost/thing for three mind-numbingly boring movies (full disclosure: I didn’t see Paranormal Activity 4, it may very well be a masterpiece).

Shortly after Oren Peli’s original Paranormal Activity, Toshikazu Nagae directed an unofficial sequel called Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night, but it wasn’t until now that the franchise’s keepers were finally willing to move the story outside a single, extended suburban family. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a welcome step in the right direction, not only for its new locations and characters, but because it is marketed to a Hispanic demographic, saving us from the further excesses of super-white, upper-middle class people (though the ‘need’ for such targeted marketing is a depressing prospect). The change of scenery is, indeed, an improvement and the new characters are almost immediately more likable and funnier than the previous ones, even while pulling petty, mean-spirited pranks that earn them their grisly fates. Christopher B. Landon, who has been co-writing and co-producing these films since part two and is taking his first spin behind the camera, recycles the small talk dialogue and anti-plotting formula, and applies it pretty well to the middleclass Mexican American lifestyle. The apartment block setting changes the formulaic dynamic into a community situation, which should strain the ‘reality’ of the situation and rob it of its isolation, but these challenges end up aiding the conceptual contrasts required of this entry.

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones
Unfortunately, found footage techniques haven’t been fresh for quite a while and Landon doesn’t seem up to the task of finding a new angle for the tired gimmick. At times, it even feels like he’s ticking off clichés from a Paranormal Activity cheat-sheet, culminating in the series’ most troublesome practice – saving all the ‘fun’ stuff for the final 20 minutes. Like the other films in the series, The Marked Ones is more boring than scary and the choppy editing and shaking cameras are headache-inducing. A load of time is wasted attempting to build characters using the non-traditional, coincidental factoid storytelling technique and the limitations of the format don’t serve the intended purpose. Everything I like about the film – the setting, the non-supernatural dangers of the neighborhood, amusing sequences involving a possessed Simon device  – would’ve been better served by a more dynamic filmmaking style. The scenes of Jesse and Hector exploring Jesse’s ‘powers’ tend to work the best, but directly recall Josh Trank’s Chronicle (2012) to the point of mimicry.  

Alongside their lack of scares, I’m also constantly frustrated by the Paranormal Activity movies’ lack of sex & violence. Every film in the series has carried an R rating and most of them have hit home video with extended, unrated cuts. These ratings imply something inappropriate for children will occur, but every movie in the franchise (save part four, perhaps, since I haven’t seen it) barely earns the rating with a couple of harsh words. The Marked Ones starts warranting the rating quickly with some full-frontal female nudity and images of a bloody aftermath, followed (eventually) by more brutal violence and some icky ‘body-horror’ events. I’m still didn’t find the experience particularly frightening, but feel like the franchise might finally be embracing its genre label. Assuming Paramount isn’t done milking this particular cash cow, I can only hope that we’ll eventually see something truly disturbing in the future.

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Video


Like its predecessors, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is limited by its found footage style, so this 1080p, 1.78:1 HD transfer isn’t going to blow any minds. That said, most of the footage was shot using high-end cameras, leaving the limitations more dependent on external factors, like low lighting. The daylight, outdoor sequences are clean and rich in natural detail, while nighttime and indoor scenes are significantly muddier. This includes quite a bit of digital noise/grain, some cross-colouration, macroblocking (specifically in the darker backgrounds), and a number of other artefacts that will occur if you point and shoot an HD camera without pre-planned lighting schemes. Some of the distortion effects, like pixel drop-outs and shifts, are even added on purpose for disturbing effect. The scenes shot with a mini GoPro camera are significantly grainier and further distorted by fisheye effects. The colour palette is mostly dictated by the environments, including the more vivid and complex outdoor shots contrasted with gritty, yellow and green-tinged interiors.

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Audio


And, again, unlike actual digital cam footage, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is augmented by a number of stereo and surround effects. Putting aside the ‘reality’ of the situation, this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix matches the spooky, jump-scare laden soundtracks of previous Paranormal Activity Blu-ray releases. The bulk of the film sticks pretty closely to the mono or at least frontal assault format in an effort to create a realistic aural landscape. The dialogue and incidental noises include the usual minor distortions and volume discrepancies (characters touch the camera’s mic, for example). When scary stuff occurs, the mix gets a little busier, including multi-channel movement from eerie wind noises, directionally-endowed screaming noises, and some crunchy, LFE-pounding supernatural explosions (possessed people appear to avoid doors whenever possible). The only music is incidental stuff with an in-movie purpose. Among these is some super-bassy house party music that also gives the surround speakers something to do.

Extras


Besides the inclusion of both the R-rated and unrated cuts of the film, this disc includes only a selection of seven deleted and extended scenes, labeled Found Footage (10:50, HD).

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Overall


For whatever it’s worth, I think that Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is the best film in the series since the first one. I found the characters more relatable and change of setting refreshing, but was still bored by the pacing and frustrated by the found-footage style. Considering the low regard I hold for these films, however, I might not be the best judge of their quality. Due to the rough look and sound of the film, this isn’t a particularly impressive Blu-ray on any technical level, but imperfection is expected. The lack of extras is also expected, but only because these films are usually released bare-boned.

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

 Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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