Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

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SupapowerThe Paranormal Activity movies still have no reason to change the formula quite yet.  Comparatively speaking, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is not a success, but on its own still made back seventeen times what it cost to make it.  That's an impressive return on any investment.  Too bad all of this money is going to the most creatively bankrupt and increasingly cynical series of films outside of the Marvel Universe.

Three times now I've made my distaste of the Paranormal Activity series known.  Found-footage horror, because it crams us so directly into the viewpoint of (typically) one person, requires a number of creative shocks or strong personalities to see its conceit through to the end.  The series has taken that to mean making sure its annoying main characters from the first film are crammed into the later chapters for forced continuity and maintaining the tired practice of limiting movement in the frame so that any disruption counts as a shock.  This is the same basic plot and scares repeated five times now with only a slight indication that it's slowing down.

The decline in inertia comes in this volume stood as good a chance as any to change the course of the series.  The Marked Ones was preceded by another storm of media quotes, talking about how it's going to focus on the barely tapped Latino market for film and will reinvent the formula with it's new setting and characters.  One choice phrase said that the market will be terribly appreciative about the 20% of the dialogue that's in Spanish.  I shouldn't be surprised, then, that the result does alter the Paranormal formula but not in any good ways, and certainly in no ways that shows this series will ever have respect for its target audience, even if it barely did to begin with.

Credit where it's due, the scene where they try to conjure the demon is fun.

Credit where it's due, the scene where they try to conjure the demon is fun.

For those of you unfamiliar with the formula, every Paranormal Activity film follows the same basic structure with different material components.  A seemingly innocent person, in this case the recently graduated Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), becomes possessed by a demon.  The possessee's wise cracking relative or friend, here best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz), has to figure out what's happened after weird things start to happen.  All of this is watched by a camera set up a very specific way to capture the action, and The Marked Ones is most promising here by providing the series first mostly non-static digital camera Jesse purchases.

There's nothing wrong with following a strict formula.  The Bond movies have done it for years and have more successes than not.  But the Bond films have attracted some of the top talent over the years and serve as an interesting reflection to where we are as a culture.  The series, from the African paintings of the second film to the ominous warnings from previous Spanish-speaking characters, has been clear in the implication that intrusion from foreign presences to otherwise untouched American soils plants seeds of chaos and self-destruction.  The only possibility of survival, suggests the strategy of The Marked Ones, for these Latino-Americans is to embrace violence and sexual aggression because that may be the only way to survive.

This is a troubling message, and one that becomes more clear looking at the differences between this film and the earlier.  The Marked Ones is the first film in the series with overtly violent characters who aren't possessed by demons, in this case a few gang members who threaten the main characters precisely until the point that they can be directed toward the threat.  Threat, in this case, is a bit loose since the first image of violence is one of the gang members shooting a woman down in cold blood because she just happened to be in the frame with them.  So, unable to think of their way out of a situation, this film directed toward a Latino audience implies that you're only useful if you can shoot.

If you feel that a stretch, then look at the times that the camera is static.  The two longest shots in the film contain what is also the first instance of gratuitous nudity and sexuality in the series.  In the first, a long full-frontal shot of a woman who is getting painted, the other when an innocent girl sits around with her shirt off.  The two scenes suggest that women are responsible for their own subjugation and destruction, and the second that any sexually forward behavior should be shunned.  This isn't new for horror films, but it's surprising to see such a backward and conservative viewpoint taken on sex.  All this is bad before we even take into account the other stereotypes on display, especially the mystical elderly Latina - a type that has popped up to similar groans in the other films.

There's also an increased reliance on broad humor that might have triggered waves of nervous laughter had any of the rest of the film been scary.

There's also an increased reliance on broad humor that might have triggered waves of nervous laughter had any of the rest of the film been scary.

The rest of the film is a shambling concoction built from easily recognizable leftovers from the series as well as other, better, films.  The camera movement allows for references to Blair Witch and Chronicle, further cementing the self-destructive path the characters in those films take.  The rest of the film mixes the basic elements of the first Activity, the continuing mythology of the second, the '80s elements of the third via a game from the era, and some hilariously bad green-filtered imagery from the fourth.  This spinoff, expressly marketed as a fresh start to Latino audiences, is a lazy hash of all that has come before with a few extra elements to taste.

This does not speak to a respectful view of the targeted audience.  The implication that Latino-Americans will continue to get the heated leftovers of their better-off white American cousins is cemented in the final shot.  No matter what, their lives are ancillary to the ongoing drama of others.  In a certain light, this could be tragic commentary on the imbalance of prosperity and power for Latino-Americans despite their growing presence in America.  Instead, with all the reheated elements and focus on the negatively empowering aspects of gang violence, it's a cynical and nasty view of the targeted audience.

I wish I could take the radical interpretation, that for anything to change there has to be a violent shake to the existing order.  But, in the end, the status quo remains.  There's no change, and what bit remain are starting to show a little mold from reuse.  According to the now series captain Christopher Landon the saga will need at least two more films to complete its epic saga.  I'm curious which subsets of America it'll take down along the way.

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Tail - Marked OnesParanormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Screenplay written and directed by Christopher Landon.
Starring Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz.

Posted by Andrew

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