Director/Screenplay – Christopher Landon, Producers – Jason Blum & Oren Peli, Photography – Gonzalo Amat, Visual Effects – Atomic Media (Supervisor – Ryan Tudhope), Special Effects Supervisor – Mark Gullesserian, Production Design – Nathan Amondson. Production Company – Blumhouse/Solana Films/Room 101, Inc.
Andrew Jacobs (Jesse), Jorge Diaz (Hector), Gabrielle Walsh (Marisol), Renee Victor (Jesse’s Grandmother), Carlos Pratts (Oscar Hernandez), Richard Cabral (Arturo), Catherine Toribio (Penelope), Molly Ephraim (Ali Rey)
In Oxnard, California, teenager friends Jesse and Hector, having just graduated from high school, play around with a new video camera they have brought. They sneak a lens through the air vent to the apartment below and see the neighbour Ana engaged in a strange ritual. They then learn that she has been murdered by another neighbour Oscar Hernandez. They sneak through the police barrier to investigate the apartment, finding it filled with occult symbols. Shortly after, Jesse awakes to find a strange bite mark on his arm. He then begins to exhibit paranormal powers, including massive strength and the ability to levitate. His behaviour also starts to change. Hector encounters Oscar who warns him that Jesse has been taken over by an evil presence that will destroy him – just before Oscar throws himself from the apartment roof to stop the presence inhabiting him. Hector and their friend Marisol try to save Jesse, which involves them delving into the activities of a devil worship cult that marks its victims from birth.
The Marked Ones is the fourth sequel to the massive runaway hit of Oren Peli’s Found Footage film Paranormal Activity (2007). Under different directors, the series has spawned a sequel every year. In comparison to many other horror franchises, the first two sequels, Paranormal Activity 2 (2010) and Paranormal Activity 3 (2011), were above average in terms of quality and atmosphere. The strain however was starting to show by the time of Paranormal Activity 4 (2012).
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones follows on from the coda that was set up after the end credits of Paranormal Activity 4. It exists more as a pendant to the main saga than as a full sequel. For one, it is credited as merely ‘Being Based on Paranormal Activity by Oren Peli’ – the announcement of a Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension (2015) was a return to regular continuity for the series. It also retains many links to the rest of the series, including cameo appearances from Katie Featherstone, Micah Sloat and Molly Ephriam, while we also see copies of the videotapes that we see being made in the other films in the apartment.
The Marked Ones marks the assumption of the director’s chair by Christopher Landon who has written all of the other Paranormal Activity sequels. Christopher is the son of actor Michael Landon, known here for I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and elsewhere as a regular on tv’s Bonanza (1959-73) and Highway to Heaven (1984-9). Christopher Landon made his screenplay debut with Larry Clark’s Another Day in Paradise (1998) and went onto write the likes of the werewolf film Blood and Chocolate (2007), the teen psycho-thriller Disturbia (2007) and Viral (2016). He mad his directorial debut with Burning Palms (2010), an anthology of tales that deal with sexual taboo lines, and subsequently went on to make Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse (2015), Happy Death Day (2017), Happy Death Day 2U (2019) and Freaky (2020).
The reasoning behind Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones would appear to be that the series enjoys a good deal of popularity among Latino audiences. Though the film is shot in English, all of the characters are Latino and the setting is the in real-life predominantly Latino neighbourhood of Oxnard, California. This certainly gives the series an injection of something different. As opposed to the upper middle-class white homes that the other sequels all took place in, this takes place in a series of rented apartments, a different socio-economic strata and amid an entirely different culture.
Even the thrust of the story has changed from the other sequels. All of the other films follow a familiar pattern – video cameras are placed in a household and observe a series of spooky happenings that gradually build to the threatening and malevolent. By contrast, The Marked Ones abandons all of the spooky happenings. There are none of the scenes of the camera slowly, carefully watching as we wait for something to happen. The central character becomes possessed fairly soon and it is more about seeing him manifest strange powers – here the film almost starts to resemble something of Chronicle (2012) – before the latter third gets into the murky doings of covens and chosen ones that the other Paranormal Activity films have circled around.
That the new setting, the Latino focus and different characters has given the Paranormal Activity series something new there is no doubting. On the other hand, beyond these face changes, Christopher Landon seems to shuffle around the same plot elements as the other films like a well-worn deck of cards – spooky goings-on, levitations, people possessed, cult activities, chosen sacrifices – without ever doing much to delve down and offer an explanation. Directorially, all he does is toss up generic pop-up scares with loud noises and people being pursued through the house. The most he approaches anything that Oren Peli did so well the first time around is the scene where Jorge Diaz brings Catherine Toribio to the apartment for sex and, while the camera sits looking on, she goes to investigate noises and abruptly a trapdoor right in front of the camera opens and a figure pops out. It is this, which reminds of what Oren Peli did so effectively, that shows by contrast just what Christopher Landon is lacking.