Firstly, welcome back. I hope you all had a very Happy New Year, and I wish you all the best in your endeavors moving forward with 2014. I am sorry that this is the first time I have blogged since the year began. It was certainly not my intention to give myself any sort of extended hiatus from posting. Shortly after the New Year began, I sat down to write, and my computer tower died. I shopped around for a new computer, which I set up last evening; so hopefully, I can now get back to writing on a regular basis.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon, “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” had its American premiere on January 2, 2014, in Hollywood, California. (As an aside, this entry to the series, due to production issues, is the only one since the series began in 2007, that was not released during the month of October.) While the movie is part horror and part thriller, it also is one more entry into the seemingly endless ‘found footage’ style of filmmaking. In the interest of full disclosure, I was more than a bit reluctant to go see yet another of that type of movie, especially after sitting through the ‘no thrills’ fourth entry into the series. The coming attractions, along with the movie’s short runtime of eighty four minutes, however, persuaded me enough to give up a portion of my Saturday evening to see if the Paranormal Activity franchise had any cinematic life left to it. I must confess that while my feeling toward the film, in an overall sense, was that it was decent and would have been better served as something I waited to watch on Netflix, there were certain changes that were made that I found worked to help enhance the story and place it above its predecessors.
Perhaps taking a cue from the successful formula of the television series “American Horror Story,” the fifth entry veers off in a different direction in terms of both characters and location. Opting to remove this entry from an idyllic home setting in the suburbs and relocate it to a grittier neighborhood in Oxnard, California, was the first thing that I felt was handled correctly. In addition, the opening scene, which features a speech being made by Oscar, (Carlos Pratts) who is his high school’s valedictorian, was a good reason for his friend Jessie (Andrew Jacobs) to have a video camera documenting that day’s events.
Teenagers, Jesse and Hector (Jorge Diaz), are close friends. The two aren’t quite sure where they are headed in life upon graduating from high school. Taking the summer to figure things out, they begin playing around with Jessie’s new video camera, a graduation present given to him by his father, Cesar (David Saucedo). One evening, while spending time at Jesse’s grandmother’s (Renee Victor) apartment, where he lives, he and Hector hear strange noises coming from the ventilation shaft. Curious to know what is going on in the apartment below them, which belongs to Anna, (Gloria Sandoval) who is supposedly a witch, they unscrew the grating for the ventilation shaft, and lower the video camera down by cable to try and find out what is going on. What appears on the camera, which the boys have attached to the television, is a fully naked woman, standing alone, perfectly still. Seconds later, Anna, who is also naked, appears on camera and begins painting red markings on the other woman’s body. Several nights later, Anna is taken from her apartment in a body bag, having apparently been murdered by Oscar, who Jesse and Hector saw leaving her apartment the day before.
Jesse gets the not so bright idea of breaking into Anna’s apartment, to, as he puts it, look for clues. Hector reluctantly agrees. Once inside, among other things, they find blood stains; and even more bizarre, considering Anna didn’t have any children, a room set aside as a nursery. In a bit of jump scare humor, it turns out that the teens aren’t the only ones in Anna’s apartment looking for clues, Oscar’s brother Arturo (Richard Cabral) is also there lurking in the dark. The morning after, Jesse wakes up with a bite mark on his arm. Shortly thereafter, he begins to realize he is in possession of new found powers, such as the ability to levitate in mid-air without falling, an apparent lack of fear of anything, as well as incredible strength. The powers are showcased during different scenes in the film.
Warning: Spoilers contained from this point on,
The powers that have been given to Jesse, however, are anything, but a blessing; instead they are a curse. The only way out of the horrid predicament he is in is if he takes his own life, something which he learns from Oscar, right before Oscar commits suicide. The remainder of the film becomes a race against time. On one side are the forces of good: Jesse’s friends Hector and Marisol, (Gabrielle Walsh) as well as the love of his grandmother, who seeks out a spiritual remedy to drive the evil from her grandson. In addition, a journal found in Anna’s apartment, helps to shed some light on what is transpiring. On the other side are a coven of witches, who want to take full possession of Jesse’s soul, now that he has turned eighteen years of age.
Two of the things that I did like very much in the film were the creative use of the old Simon electronic toy as a way to communicate with the spirit world. Jesse would ask the toy questions, and when the answer was yes, the green button went on; when the answer was no, the red button went on. When asked the question: Are you a guardian angel looking out for me? the toy stayed on red for ‘no’ until he took the batteries out of the machine. The moment I liked best in the film, was when Hector was able to briefly time travel. While reading the journal, the teens come across a part which speaks about doorways that give one the ability to time travel, provided there are particular symbols that are drawn on to the doorway. The only catch is that the time traveler can only go to destinations and witness unholy events that have occurred. Toward the end of the film, Hector, scared out of his mind and running for his life while attempting to escape not only Jesse, but a coven of witches, goes through such a door. The place he arrives at is the home from the first paranormal film. He sees Katie (Katie Featherstone) standing in front of a kitchen drawer. He runs over to her and pleads for her help. She can’t see or hear him, but she can feel him touching her, so she screams for her husband Micah (Micah Sloat) who, once he arrives, she proceeds to stab to death. When the film was over and I stopped to think about it, I appreciated what Landon did with that scene. Toward the very end of the first “Paranormal Activity” film, Katie screams, and Micah runs from the bedroom to help her. Moments later, his body comes hurtling through the air toward the steady cam that has been set up in their bedroom, and as Katie makes her way toward the camera, she reveals that she is now a demon. (As an aside, actress Katie Featherstone is the only cast member to have appeared in all five films in the series).
If you are a fan of the other films, then chances are you won’t have a problem spending the less than 90 minutes it takes to watch its latest installment. I have already read talk that there will be at least one more film added to the franchise, and if they continue to make money on the relatively low budgets they are produced with, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are several more after the next one. The chemistry between the actors was good, and overall the movie was entertaining to a modest degree.