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More mediocre found-footage scares in ‘Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones’

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Aside from the change in setting, The Marked Ones doesn’t add a whole lot to the Paranormal Activity formula.

Two stars

Paranormal Activity: The Marked OnesAndrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Gabrielle Walsh. Directed by Christopher Landon. Rated R. Now playing.

There’s no better illustration of Paranormal Activity’s transformation from a resourceful indie production made by one filmmaker with a vision into a self-sustaining studio behemoth than the existence of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, a spinoff targeted specifically at the Latino market. Paramount noticed that the previous Paranormal movies pulled in a large Latino audience, so the studio commissioned this movie based on market research.

Unfortunately, market research can’t write a screenplay, so writer-director Christopher Landon, who co-wrote the last three Paranormal installments, is stuck trying to come up with a way to tie in some unrelated characters to the increasingly convoluted Paranormal mythology (but not too closely, since this isn’t the “official” fifth movie). For the bulk of the movie, that amounts to a brief reference to central sisters Katie and Kristi, and a cameo appearance by Kristi’s stepdaughter Ali (Molly Ephraim), who was last seen in Paranormal Activity 2. The main focus is on teenage friends Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) and the mysterious old woman living in the apartment below Jesse’s.

The teens joke about their neighbor being a witch, but it stops being funny when Jesse discovers a strange mark on his arm and soon begins behaving erratically. Could it be demon possession? Well, yes, obviously, and at least The Marked Ones doesn’t waste too much time on skepticism, since by now everyone in the audience knows where these movies are heading. Aside from the change in setting, from upper-middle-class suburban tract housing to a working-class apartment building, The Marked Ones doesn’t add a whole lot to the Paranormal formula. While previous installments attempted to develop new angles on the series’ found-footage style, here Landon opts for a straightforward approach, just having his characters film everything that happens with handheld cameras. There are no creative surveillance-video setups, just people running in fear while still making sure to capture all the action with their cameras.

There are a handful of creepy moments throughout The Marked Ones, but the scares are mostly of the sudden-loud-noise variety. The story engages only superficially with supernatural beliefs in Latino culture, instead relying on stock demon-possession imagery. At times it comes off like one of the later Hellraiser sequels, in which producers grafted Pinhead onto unrelated horror screenplays. By the end, when Landon has to rely on time travel to bring the story back to the central Paranormal narrative, it’s obvious that the series has nowhere left to go. Of course, Paranormal Activity 5 opens in October.

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