When I wrapped up my "year in review" post for 2013, I allowed that while I had sworn off any further PARANORMAL ACTIVITY entries after the dismal fourth installment, I was under the impression that P.A.: THE MARKED ONES was merely using the franchise title to sell a new movie with new characters, and as such, I'd still probably check out the first horror release of 2014.
Well, fool me once. There IS a connection, and if you aren't familiar with at least the first film in the series, you'll walk out with a great big "Huh?" Had I bothered to do my homework, I would have learned ahead of time that this was the directorial debut of Christopher Landon (who wrote all but the first film) and I would have been automatically on my guard. But... there's a reason I don't do my homework. I like movies to be as new and surprising to me as possible when they show up, no matter how much I take for granted in real life.
And this time? It definitely worked in my favor. So, in brief: we're in the Hispanic community of Oxnard, California. Best friends Jesse and Hector are quite amused to suspect that their frumpy, matronly neighbor Ana may actually be a nasty "bruja," and they're more than a bit titillated when they contrive to spy on her and actually see her performing a ritual. It's still all a joke to them until their pal Oscar (who just graduated from high school as valedictorian) shoots Ana dead without warning. And this event coincides with Jesse's discovery that some intangible force is apparently looking out for his own safety (and, in some cases, his remarkable good fortune).
Okay, it's another camcorder movie and all that that entails. You can either still tolerate the format or not, and it gets harder and harder every time to accept that someone's always remembering to keep that camera running to the bitter end. But I'm still essentially okay with it, and in this case I'm glad that I didn't approach it as an actual PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movie, because it really does try to be different in its own way. We've got a fresh and believable neighborhood and set of characters; and there are none of those endless "camera running overnight" speed-up sequences or other over-elaborate surveillance gimmicks; nor are we impeded by having to keep track of what the hell went on in the other four movies (until the appropriate moments when it actually works). Oh, and I also enjoyed the use of the vintage electronic game "Simon" as a substitute for the typical Ouija board...
THE MARKED ONES does things its own way and manages to keep the momentum going even when it crosses familiar territory. The effects are excellent and the scares are often ferocious (even though there are also moments where you just KNOW something's going to yell boo). So yes, fool me once. But had I figured this for yet another helping of the same old P.A., I wouldn't even have bothered. Yet since I did? I have no trouble pointing to this as the best of the sequels.
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