As the absence of a numeral and a non-Halloween date indicates, this weekend's "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones," the latest installment in the popular found-footage horror franchise, is not a direct sequel to "Paranormal Activity 4," but rather a spinoff with a new story line, cast and setting. While some movie critics feel that the new angle, which is aimed more heavily at young Latino audiences, has given the series a jolt of energy, many others find "The Marked Ones" more tired than terrifying.
The Times' Mark Olsen is in the first group, writing, "The new film shifts from the suburban anxieties of the white middle class to a group of Latino teenagers in an apartment complex. The change is sharp, giving the new film some much-needed freshness." Regarding writer-director Christopher Landon, who also wrote for the earlier sequels, Olsen says, "His film doesn't have anywhere near the formal inventiveness of the third or fourth 'Paranormal' films. It also has no such aspirations, as 'The Marked Ones' is refreshingly uncynical and straightforward in its desire to simply be a movie that makes the audience jump and be scared. It's a fun fright film and wants to be nothing more."
USA Today's Claudia Puig agrees that the sequel "injects new life into the tired franchise," adding, "It's a welcome update, qualifying as the best in the series since the first film captivated and unnerved audiences in 2007." Granted, it "has convoluted sequences and moments that stretch credulity. But it also has more fresh humor, viable scares and character development than the past few sequels. It's easy to become invested in the welfare of this charismatic cast and to feel trepidation when they encounter hazards."
But plenty of other critics find themselves in the naysayer camp. The Wrap's Alonso Duralde writes,"While it's exciting to see a hit series take on an almost entirely Latino cast as just a matter of course, the new zigs only barely balance out all the familiar zags." He adds, "If you've already jumped off this bandwagon, or have considered doing so after the last few movies, there's not much in 'The Marked Ones' that will compel you to follow the camera-operating protagonist down another dark hallway."
Bilge Ebiri of New York magazine says "The Marked Ones" feels like a rehash of not only the earlier "Paranormal" films, but also "The Blair Witch Project," "Chronicle," "Project X" and "an assortment of other films that weren't all that original to begin with."
Unfortunately, Ebiri says, "a change in setting doesn't forebode a change in tactics, and this 'Paranormal Activity' still traffics in the same tired setups and obvious scares as the earlier ones. The camera wildly pans one way, there's nothing; the camera wildly pans the other way, there's nothing; the camera wildly pans back and ohmygodthere'ssomething! … Does anybody really find this crap scary anymore?"
The Toronto Star's Peter Howell has also had enough of the found-footage genre, writing, "The novelty has long been crushed like a Halloween pumpkin under a steamroller, thanks to countless imitators who also corrupted what 'found footage' actually means. The term is now indiscriminately applied to any movie that uses an excessive amount of hand-held camerawork, bad sound and ragged editing."
Howell continues: "By now this rapidly deflating franchise should be titled 'Paranormal Stupidity,' because the characters insist on doing all the wrong things. … 'The Marked Ones' isn't very scary and it's not very funny, so really, what's the point? Oh, I forgot — it's to make a pile of money, again."
Whether "The Marked Ones" will indeed make a pile of money remains to be seen, but, regardless, we haven't heard the last of the franchise: "Paranormal Activity 5" is scheduled for the series' regular pre-Halloween slot in October.