Thursday, April 17, 2014

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014)

Bear with me. I'm writing this nearly a week after watching the movie, which isn't typical for me; I try to at least braindump my thoughts into a rough outline no later than the day after. And not only has a week passed; in that week's time, I've quit one job, vacationed in New York City, and started a new job (yesterday). So, needless to say, the freshness of my thoughts has diminished a bit. What hasn't diminished, however, is the strong inclination to watch this unexpectedly good Paranormal Activity entry again! This could possibly be the first time since the Friday the 13th franchise that I found the fifth installment to be at least as good as the first.

Though, it's not exactly a fifth installment in terms of story continuity. You may have heard that it is the "Latino remix" of Paranormal Activity, or something along those lines--which is true--but in terms of story chronology, this is, let's say, a parallel installment. (Honestly, I'm going to have a hard time not spoiling some of the best elements of this film, so if you haven't seen it, please stop reading.) This is important to note because, rest assured, there is an actual proper Paranormal Activity 5 movie installment coming out, and Oren Peli's involvement is present in both films (albeit producer). Thus, if you are a fan of the franchise Peli pioneered, be advised that The Marked Ones is in no way a "knockoff" or "spinoff" in the sense of filmmakers trying to capitalize on a franchise brand someone else has created (as in, say, Paranormal Entity), no matter what those naysayers are shouting.

Let's get the negative stuff out of the way first. Hitherto, I've not really been bothered much by all the gripes you hear about with these found-footage movies. Being a lifelong fan of fiction, I've always had a higher threshold for allowing the rules of reality to be bent in order to allow the magic of movies and books to effect a nice cathartic experience upon me. The main complaint I've heard with movies like this is "Why are they filming everything?" (as opposed to certain events causing the more natural reaction of dropping the camera and making like a banana), and this was the first time I found myself irked by the implausibility of the continued filming as well as the oversights in editing the footage (which were a constant reminder that this isn't found footage but rather footage that has been doctored for cinematic effect). The Marked Ones definitely pushes the limits of filming everything, with sequences of, say, a character simply sitting there watching TV. And, at other times, the camera is already sitting stationary, filming a second before a characters bursts into the shot and snatches it up. This makes for a nice jolt from the audience, but it's a plain cheat. To make matters worse still, there are myriad convenient coincidences such as the perfectly framed shot of the goings-on in the apartment below when the camera is lowered down the air shaft. Again, these all provide fine entertainment and new gimmicks to the repertoire, but it was even hard for me to look past.

But look past the obvious flaws I did! And I'm thankful for it. You see, The Marked Ones brings us both likeable characters (and, no, I'm not referring to Katie Featherston, in this case) and actual humour. The film stays true to its Latin flavour and delivers hilarious nods at Latino stereotypes. For example, the film's most likeable character wears a T-shirt with I JUST LOOK ILLEGAL on it, and later, after smoking weed, he starts calling his friend, who is urging him to break into the downstairs apartment and snoop around, Sherlock "Homes" (think of it or say it aloud in your best Latino accent). Throughout the first half of the film, you get the sense that these are real people with real lives and families and concerns, and in my case I found myself sympathizing with the characters, rooting for them, wishing them no harm. And yet the film isn't all comedy; the balance of humour and story and real jump-scares (landing on the car!) is a fine one indeed, causing flinches, laughs, and a deeper understanding of the Paranormal Activity story, by turns.

The filmmakers do continue the trend of adding in higher-budget editing, the lack of which admittedly made the first installment the most charming (even though I didn't take to it right away), but in this case I think they do a good job of maintaining creativity without collapsing into absurdity or replication (by replication I mean stealing from movies like, say, Poltergeist!). We get an interesting turn of events where Jesse becomes possessed with some nifty superpowers that he toys with and has his friend film. I felt like I was watching one of those YouTube videos where computer-editing geniuses dazzle us with neat visual stunts. Though they're not all good (the dog on the ceiling was an amusing thought but the execution was more slapstick and ill-fitted with the tone of the movie than anything), there are some strong moments. There's a particularly awesome moment involving night-vision late in the movie that anyone should be able to appreciate.

If you believe all's well that ends well, then you'll do well to end one of your nights with this movie. For me, the ending is the strongest of any of the entries so far (as it has become sort of a staple to have a gotcha! moment at the end of these movies, as in Friday the 13th and Saw). As I said a bit ago, I don't want to spoil anything, but The Marked Ones ties itself into the story so beautifully that I'm dying to watch the whole series again. I think it's obvious the filmmakers did their homework: I imagine them all sitting in a conference-style room, watching and annotating all previous movies, then considering all the community feedback, and finally producing this superb entry. Sure, I am just some guy and this is my opinion, and I've already seen tons of reviews with people bashing this movie--but I do believe I have a low tolerance for bad movies. This is not a bad movie; it thoroughly entertained me and secured many subsequent viewings and an interest in rewatching the whole franchise. If you were thinking of skipping "yet another Paranormal Activity wannabe," cast off your doubts and check this one out (granted you've seen the other 4, of course).

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