The problem with Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is just timing. Though it brings some fresh ideas and definitely some much needed action to the Paranormal Activity canon, it comes after four near identical films in a row – so you’d be forgiven for writing it off as another cash-in on an already well-worn franchise.
That’s the unfortunate thing about The Marked Ones. As a standalone, there’s probably not enough here to distinguish this, admittedly tense & interesting, story from the rest of the horror schlock out there – particularly in the wake of the Paranormal Activity found footage revolution. It seems as if nearly every horror movie is going the handheld way, which means there’s very little to set this one apart by itself.
But as one piece of a larger horror jigsaw this film actually does a very good job of expanding the Paranormal Activity universe, in a similar way to the tie-in Marvel movie universe. It gives us a sidelong view of the overarching story – a short cross-section exploring another aspect of this supernatural quandary that seems to exclusively affect southern California. And that makes it fascinating.
Getting an insight into the actual machinations of a supernatural entity is rare and usually a bad idea in movies – because the more you know about the enemy, the less it’ll frighten you. So the rationing of information is a key device in horror, because it keeps you guessing – which keeps your mind open. Which makes you easier to scare.
What they’ve done here is actually a bit ingenious so, because they’ve found a way to give you a deeper look behind the curtain without removing that element of fear – by transplanting the story of The Marked Ones to a different set of characters.
Instead of an affluent white family we’re dealing with a couple of Latino friends living in a rough neighbourhood. Instead of a slow burning night-by-night acceleration of paranormal activity, we’ve got something more like an origin story – with a young man discovering he has supernatural powers, only to slowly realise they come at a terrible cost.
There are still plenty of jump scares and a surprising amount of canon and self-reference within the script, but this is very much its own story. Which kind of sucks because, by itself… at best it’s just another run-of-the-mill scary movie.