With “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones,” this found-footage franchise abandons the lull-you-to-sleep creepiness of found surveillance footage for full-on shaky cam and an altogether more conventional horror movie plot.
But as exhausted as this series and the genre it comes from are, it still manages a few decent jolts thanks to that new approach and a pretty good cast’s reactions to what they, and we, see through the video camera’s viewfinder.
Writer-director Christopher Landon “latinizes” the tale, setting this installment among Angelinos in the barrio — teenagers, gang-bangers, abuelas and the like.
And even as he recycles some of the funny stereotypes Marlon Wayans & Co. sent up in the “Paranormal” parody, “A Haunted House,” he finds frights and fun in that found footage.
Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) gets a camera for his high school graduation present. He and his pals Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) play with it, taping parties, pickup basketball games and the like. That gets under the skin of the occasional gang banger, but that comes with the territory.
But Anna, the crazy lady downstairs in Jesse’s complex, is truly out of the ordinary. They hear weird noises, slip the camera down the heat vents and tape a strange sexual ritual. And then Anna dies, killed by Jesse and Hector’s class valedictorian, Oscar (Carlos Pratts). Looking at Oscar, they can see, as we can see, that this boy isn’t right in the head.
The boys-will-be-boys stuff is reasonably realistic. And the stumbling panic about what is happening with these people who knew the late Anna, whom all the kids called “bruja” (witch), is sharply realized. Call the cops!
“Call the cops and tell them WHAT?”
Jesse’s Spanish-speaking granny knows, and her approach to the problem is old school and old school horror.
The bottom line of any horror picture matches your neckline — as in, “Does it make the hairs of your neck stand up?” The answer here, as silly and weary as these movies are, is “Yes, a few times.”
But the jokes, intentional and unintentional, give away why “The Marked Ones” was dumped on the first weekend of January. It was never going to be much better than mediocre.