In various manners I have managed to keep up with the Paranormal Activity franchise since being introduced to the first film a few years after its release. I absolutely adore the first film for its reconsideration of the found footage genre at a time nearly simultaneous to the release of the equally impressive REC. The films that followed Paranormal Activity have in their various ways proven to be lesser works than the original, always failing in the final moments to possess the same thrill and exhilaration as their predecessor. To be clear, I accept that even Paranormal Activity follows in the shoes of The Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust, but what helps to differentiate this franchise it is decided choice to use the jump scare to great effect, only to have it doubled into a occult and indeed quite unsettling paranormal thriller. Based on the trailer for Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, or as the lazy title cards at the AMC theater I attended suggested, Paranormal Activity 5, I assumed that this would finally be the much needed revitalization in the franchise, since a moderate showing with the third in the franchise. However, this is far from the case and what could have easily been a revitalization, proves to be only slightly more enjoyable than the second film in the franchise, which is downright unwatchable. I know that I should know at this point that the Paranormal Activity films are on their last legs, but somehow I keep getting suckered into seeing them in theaters, only to find the crowds dwindling with each new installment. Never mind that this film desperately tries everything to put a new look on the film, whether it be its depiction of a Hispanic family, an even more direct referencing to the previous films or the nauseating homage to the emergence of #glitchart that has fed into the belief that somehow in the space between a functioning file and its deterioration lies a spectral presence, it simply does not add up to a complete film. If part of the thrill of going to horror movies is the scare, it would seem like this would be the one element to the franchise that the newest film would cling to wholeheartedly, yet this is far from the case and any amount of concerted direction towards composing scares is tempered and the few genuine scares come not as thrills, but clear repetitions on previous tricks in the franchise. Again I say all this knowing that I will continue to fill the seats as these films continue to be released. Suffice it to say, me and this franchise have an ever expanding love-hate relationship.
This particular vision of Paranormal Activity is situated in Oxnard, California, noted for its large Hispanic population. As such, the narrative focus specifically on Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) a recent high school graduate, who seems inclined not to plan for his future, but, instead; to simply spend his days drinking, getting high and hanging out with his equally indifferent pal Hector (Jorge Diaz). Their life seems quite average, spending time in their apartment complex, while sharing confusion over the hermit lifestyle of Jesse's neighbor Anna (Gloria Sandoval) an elderly Hispanic woman who many people in the community believe to be a witch. It is not until Jesse comes into possession of a camera as a graduation present that things begin to move out of the ordinary, especially after some spying on the part of he and Hector, catch a naked Anna, on camera, performing a ritual on the stomach of a naked woman in her apartment. Confused, but indifferent, when the valedictorian of their class Oscar (Carlos Pratts) is found responsible for murdering Anna, eventually committing suicide himself, the seeming normalcy of their life falls to pieces. Jesse, begins to become prone to a sort of supernatural telekinesis, one that protects him from attacks and catches him from falling in midair. Thinking it a cool ability, when it begins to be the cause of his bodily deterioration things shift considerably. Jesse's highly religious grandmother Abuela (Renee Victor) uses her connections to the religious community to ward off the evil spirits within Jesse. This attempt proves quite futile as the spirit possessing Jesse's body is incredibly powerful and clearly has evil intentions, one's that are verified when Hector and Jesse's sister Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) visit a woman named Ali (Molly Ephraim) who had been in contact with Oscar before his death. Ali explains that the events are tied to an ancient occult and that children like Oscar and Jesse who lost their mothers during their births are subject to such possessions. Yet, this discovery comes at far too late a moment, which means that Hector and Marisol are attacked by Jesse, even after they recruit help from local gang members. Marisol subsequently dies in the house where Katie (Katie Featherson) lived with her grandmother as a child, while Hector in an attempt to flee steps through a door that transports him back in time to the incidents of the initial Paranormal Activity, indeed, becoming the unseen demonic force that causes Micah (Micah Sloane) to lose his composure before being attacked with a knife by Katie. Witnessing all this, Hector attempts to flee, but is stopped by the also present spirit of Jesse, begin killed instantaneously. In the midst of this a still living Katie stops to turn off the camera which has still been recording the events.
If the addition of a time travel component to this entire narrative were not enough to show that that franchise is beginning to falter, the addition of guns and a heavy reliance on humorous moments to build up the first half of the film might well be loud affirmation of its imminent demise. Yet, this like the rest of the films in the franchise still manages to be a thing of critical and theoretical curiosity, particularly since it is the first film in the franchise wherein the main possession is occurring in the body of a male as opposed to a female. Indeed, the entire franchise is now running on a very bizarre, if not terribly thin, connection of a series of births that tie the figure of Katie to all the films, she being the sole carrier of the curse/possession/affliction that has yet to be clearly defined in what is now five films. Sure it is apparent that the curse is somehow tied to a witches covet, but precisely how this all intersects or any degree of historical elements are completely void of explanation. As the friend who I attended the film with observed, the plots of these films are very much turning into LOST, wherein they are all descending into layers of misdirection as if to dodge admitting that they have no clue where they are taking the series. Regardless, embodiment of this paranormal entity is what carries the films and the embodiment prior had a clear tie to pregnancy, either in the past, or in the attempts at creating such an occurrence. Similarly, the spectral presences in the film, while very much of a non-human variety seem to take on a masculine presence, one that has been till this point non-physical. If it is to be believed that Jesse and by extension Hector have travelled back to the site of the original film (although not the original encounter with the entities which as it stands is Paranormal Activity 3) the bodies capable of navigating the space are male, their embodiment taking on a temporal transcendence not allowed the females in prior films, although Katie does disappear and reappear in various spaces so it could well prove that she is the figure ultimately navigating the time-space continuum at play in this five film franchise. Needless to say, embodiment is a thing that powers Jesse, while it controls others, the commentaries that occur as him being a possessed birth and also being the first born male take on intriguing layers in regards to larger tropes in the horror genre, particularly since in all the films prior, the women have been decidedly figured in as things to be victimized. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold in contrast to other, if any, Paranormal Activity films.
Key Scene: The last ten minutes, like three out of the four previous films proves to be its most fascinating stuff, I just wish they would commit to this thrilling of an endeavor for the stark eighty minute runtime of the respective films.
If you are like me and have become a completist for this franchise you should definitely catch up with this film, although awaiting its release to home movie is ideal. If you have not been keeping up you should probably avoid this film altogether.