Few who worked on — and the few who bought tickets for — "Paranormal Activity 4" were pleased with the outcome.
Although the film performed fair enough in overseas markets, 2012's installment in the horror franchise was by far the worst-reviewed in the series and grossed the least in domestic theaters, just half of what
So the creators of the supernatural thrillers decided to sit out 2013 entirely and shake things up, taking the found-footage films into an entirely different dirección.
The resulting work, "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," is a Latino-themed story that ditches any number of
Sustaining energy in a franchise by its fifth film has never been easy.
"Trying to keep interest in anything for this long is a real challenge," said Adam Goodman, president of Paramount Film Group. "And quality control is a really hard thing to keep up."
The inspiration for "The Marked Ones" comes from both data and a single moviegoer.
Generally speaking, Latino moviegoers long have been supporters of horror movies, especially those with a supernatural twist. Paramount estimates that Latino ticket buyers accounted for about 11% of the domestic gross of the first "Paranormal Activity" film in 2009, rising to an estimated 19% for the last sequel (Latinos make up 16.9% of the U.S. population.)
The moviegoer in question was a 15-year-old Latina who attended a Los Angeles research preview of "Paranormal Activity 3" in 2011. Seated at a focus group after the test screening, the teen eloquently expressed some complaints about the production, but it was her resolute ownership of the story and its characters — rather than her critical insights — that made Goodman sit up. "She was referring to the film as if [the story were] real," Goodman recalled.
So the studio, writer-director Christopher Landon (who has writing credits on the last three "Paranormal Activity" films) and producer Jason Blum set out to create a film that would be designed to appeal to Latino moviegoers, with the caveat that it not pander to them.
"The audience is sophisticated and can see through something that's inauthentic," said Blum, who has produced all of the "Paranormal Activity" films, which have a total worldwide gross of $720.7 million. Added Landon: "We didn't want to make a shameless cash grab."
Because "Paranormal Activity 4" was so disappointing, the creative team felt it had license to try different things, primarily by taking "The Marked Ones" out of a confined dwelling, as had largely been the decree before.
Landon said that in his initial research for the movie's script, he visited Los Angeles botanicas, stores that sell alternative medicines such as herbs and spiritual amulets and candles, and was struck by the diversity of the remedies, clientele and religions represented. (One of the first botanicas he toured is in the film.)
While the "Paranormal Activity" movies tend to be about things (or people) that go bump in the night, the narrative design of "The Marked Ones" slowly evolved from a witch story into a possession plot, in which a recent high school graduate named Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) wakes to find odd bite marks on his arm.
Pretty soon, as his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) documents on video, Jesse is exhibiting strange and disturbing powers, including the ability to levitate himself and others. "I really wanted Jesse to believe that something special was happening to him — that it was something he would be excited about," Landon said, "before that blessing turned into a curse."
Although the main players generally speak English (Hector doesn't speak any Spanish), the filmmakers wrestled with how much Spanish dialogue to include. In following the unofficial rules of the found footage genre, the film couldn't have subtitles — who would have slapped them on, after all? — but Landon didn't want the characters to feel ethnically neutered. The solution was to add an abuelita who speaks no English, even though it's pretty obvious what she's saying.
"If you are Spanish-speaking, you might understand about 20% more of the dialogue than if you don't," Blum said. Close followers of the series will recognize several references to earlier "Paranormal Activities," including a flashback to the movie that launched it all.
Even with more locations and special effects than the preceding films, "The Marked Ones" didn't cost that much more than the average "Paranormal Activity" film.
The production took over a recently renovated West Adams apartment complex for most of the filming, using some of the units for extras holding and others for the production office. Because "The Marked Ones" uses newcomer actors rather than "Paranormal Activity" alumni (who at this point charge more), the cast savings offset the higher costs of multiple locations and special effects.
Goodman cautioned that box-office expectations for the new film should be more modest than with the other "Paranormal Activity" films, but audience tracking surveys suggest "The Marked Ones" could open to more than $30 million in its debut weekend. If it fares that well, Paramount could start a new branch of "Marked One" movies; "Paranormal Activity 5," which is already in the works and is not a follow-up to "Marked Ones," is scheduled for release in October.
"I don't think you have to live in any specific neighborhood to appreciate this movie," Goodman said. "But from Day One, it was always intended to be distinct from 'Paranormal Activity' — it is its own unique movie. It was critical that this was a different experience."