‘Paranormal Activity’ franchise out of steam, lacks good scares

Published on Thursday, 9 January 2014 23:31 - Written by STEWART SMITH ssmith@tylerpaper.com

I’m pretty much done with the “Paranormal Activity” series.

The first one was fairly predictable, but it was still pretty effective as a haunted house-type of horror flick. It also fully justified the use of its “found footage” schtick, something that only one of the series’ five (so far) films has managed to do. But instead of just leaving things be, or even simply making more films about unrelated paranormal activities (the term is broad enough to accommodate almost anything scary), the producers have decided there needs to be a “mythology” connecting these boring, repetitive slogs.

There was a glimmer of hope, at least, with the latest entry, subtitled “The Marked Ones.” The film centers not on Katie or her relatives or any of the people associated with the previous four films and instead on a couple of recently high school grads in California. Best friends Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) are mostly content to screw around with the video camera they have, documenting everything no matter how mundane. Things take a turn for the strange when it appears that Oscar, a former classmate of Jesses’s, was responsible for the apparent murder of Anna, a fellow apartment tenant, who most of the local kids playfully claimed was a witch. However, they

 

were more right than they realized when, after sneaking into Anna’s apartment and discovering childhood photos of Oscar and Jesse as well as a wealth of occult symbols, a demon attaches itself to Jesse.

At first, this grants him some cool superhuman powers, such as the ability to levitate and drastically increase strength and agility. But as time goes on, Jesse loses more of himself to the darkness that possesses him just as the reason for his possession is made clear.

And those revelations are what ultimately works against the film.

There’s a lot of mileage and untapped material to be had in a story that dabbles in religious iconography and Hispanic folklore the way this teases. The rituals Jesse’s grandmother (the most endearing and interesting character in the movie, I might add) are both odd and fascinating, and it feels like there was so much more to be shown and done with that angle.

The story’s inherent focus on Hispanic culture also adds an interesting level of texture that simply hasn’t existed in the series until now, mostly because it’s been focusing on the same sorts of archetypes that we’ve seen in countless horror movies before.

And instead of giving us a story that focuses on the horrible deterioration of a good kid, we get a bunch of limp connections to a “mythology” that wishes it was even half as creepy and interesting and involved than it actually is. There’s far too much attention paid to the little details about some grand plan involving a coven of witches and first born sons and not nearly enough paid to the people at the center of these films. This is what happens when you suddenly decide to start developing a “mythology” around your films but don’t have it planned from the start. It never works.

But who cares about mythology, right? Stuff like that can ultimately be ignored so long as the scares are good enough, right? Too bad that doesn’t apply to “The Marked Ones.”

In the film’s favor, writer/director Christopher Landon at least departs from the “Paranormal Activity” formula of showing long, sustained shots of a quiet room all before some big, loud jump scare happens. Here he at least makes some OK use of the “uncut” nature of a kid constantly capturing video with a couple decent jump scares (mostly involving “now you don’t see it, now you do” moments), but they’re few and far between.

Maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there’s a whole legion of fans who really get invested in the little blips of connectivity between these movies that registers as long-term investment. Maybe they enjoy having (at best) ten minutes of scares in an 85 minute movie. Maybe they enjoy having no real characters to attach to. Or maybe the studio keeps cranking them out because they’ll always make a significant profit when they cost only a few million dollars to make.

Either way, it’s obvious that this franchise has run out of steam, and with the writers, producers and current director only more intent on bringing the “mythology” to a close, I can’t see myself continuing to care about further installments on iota.