Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is a 2014 American supernatural horror film written and directed by Christopher B. Landon. It was released on January 3, 2014 in U.S. theaters. It is a spinoff of the Paranormal Activity horror movie franchise. It is also Landon's second directorial effort, after Burning Palms, and the first to be shot in found footage style.
The story begins in June 2012 in Oxnard, California. Recent high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has a party which includes his family and friends to celebrate his graduation. After days of humorous stunts, Jesse finds a bite on his arm. Days later, he and his friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) are confronted by two thugs who attack them, but the thugs are somehow knocked out. When they show the incident to their other friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), Jesse cannot remember how it happened. After a few days of strange activity, he finds that he has superhuman abilities before he tests and plays with them.
Anna (Gloria Sandoval), the strange old witch-like neighbor of Jesse, is killed, and the police suspect that Oscar (Carols Pratts), a former classmate of Jesse, is the prime suspect. Jesse and his friend decide to find out what Anna's apartment looks like. They find black magic rituals, missing tapes of the third film, and a picture of Jesse. They are confronted by Oscar's brother, Arturo (Richard Cabral), who claims that Oscar did not kill her. The next day, Jesse and Hector meet Penelope (Catherine Toribio), whom Jesse takes to Anna's apartment to have sex. Penelope finds a trap door in her apartment leading to the basement and is grabbed by an unseen entity before she breaks free and runs away, while Oscar emerges from it and goes to the bedroom. Jesse arrives back and chases Oscar upon seeing him, revealing that arm has been bitten by Anna and he had killed her. Oscar then commits suicide by jumping from a building onto the top of a car.
The friends check the basement and find photos of Oscar, Jesse, and his family. One of which suggests that his mother was once friends with Anna. Over a few days of strange activity, Jesse begins acting more strangely - sullen, moody, and dark. He goes to Anna's basement to find the cause of a dog's barking noise, only to find ghostly figures, including those of young Katie and Kristi (Chloe Csengery and Jessica Tyler Brown). He ends up back in his own room - now even more sullen and dark.
Jesse is getting even more dark and his homicidal actions are uncontrollable. Hector and Marisol seek help from Ali Rey (Molly Ephraim), who had researched about demons after the events of the second film and tells them about a coven who possesses others to create an army with the help of demons. Ali gives them an address to where a final ritual takes place, which they go to. They are attacked by a now possessed Jesse, who is knocked out and is taken to hospital. Hector and Marisol are knocked out by a mysterious figure, who takes Jesse away. After regaining consciousness, Hector and Marisol seek help from Arturo and his friend, Santo (Juan Vasquez), to head to the place of the ritual. There, they find a gateway takes them to an "unholy place", in this case, Grandma Lois' house at the time the third film ended. The old coven women and the possessed Jesse attack the four and engage in fight, in which Marisol and Santo are killed.
Hector flees, leaving a seemingly dead Arturo behind, and goes through the gateway. He finds himself in the household of Katie and Micah (Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat), at the time the first film ended. Hector sees Katie walking from upstairs to get a knife. Upon seeing Hector, she screams for Micah, who arrives to attack Hector. But Micah is stabbed to death by Katie, as Hector flees. Hector is confronted by who appears to be a possessed Jesse, gets attacked and drops the camera. Without Hector in sight and the camera still recording, a random witch appears, picks up and turns off the camera.
Director Christopher Landon also wrote the screenplay for The Marked Ones as he has done for all of the Paranormal Activity films since the second one. Yet, to look at this series from the second film on, there seems to be very little in the way of overall franchise planning. These films come out of the gate looking, sounding, and feeling exactly like the ones before, with what amounts to 15-20 minutes of actual series progression. Even this usually comes off as half-developed or worse as with Paranormal Activity 4.
The shift in character and location for this spin-off was done for demographic reasons, the people behind the franchise aiming for a more ethnic niche audience. Landon's screenplay delves into the Latino world of black magic, the characters going to a local shop lined wall-to-wall with candles rather than a priest for answers. The dangerous streets of LA are also utilized here, but nothing gets fleshed out enough to matter. By the time the "activity" finally does kick in, it's back to Paranormal Activity business as usual.
The whole "found footage" idea is no longer a plot point. The characters just film everything for no discernible reason, the whole "why are you still filming" question hardly even getting raised this time around. This is nothing new. Found footage movies have essentially become POV movies in the last couple of years, the style serving very little purpose other than to put the audience right in the middle of the action. Or horror as the case is here. Save for some fleeting moments, though, there's no reason at all for this shooting style in The Marked Ones, and this too becomes just another element this series seems to have to include for the sake of the franchise.
At least Landon moves away from the stationary approach. All of the action/horror we're in the middle of is moving around us, the camera darting back and forth to just barely get a look at something terrifying. At this, Landon excels, and the scares this time around, common as they are, are pretty decent. The jump scares are in there. That's not something you'll ever get away from in today's horror. However, Landon understands the concept of a frightening image, whether that image is slow and quiet or all up in your face. The Marked Ones brings with it a lot of each.
Few who worked on — and the few who bought tickets for — Paranormal Activity 4 were pleased with the outcome. Although the film performed fair enough in overseas markets, 2012’s instalment in the horror franchise was by far the worst-reviewed in the series and grossed the least in US theatres, just half of what Paranormal Activity 3 took in. So the creators of the supernatural thrillers decided to sit out 2013 entirely and shake things up, taking the found-footage films into an entirely different direction.
The resulting work, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, is a Latino-themed story that ditches any number of Paranormal Activity staples, taking the characters out of WASPy suburbia and not only into a working-class barrio but also a new narrative realm. Unlike earlier films in the cycle, The Marked Ones, opening on Thursday, is less a tale of a haunted house than of demonic possession, laced with more humour, visual effects and gunplay than any of the preceding films.
The inspiration for The Marked Ones comes from both data and a single moviegoer.
Generally speaking, Latino moviegoers long have been supporters of horror movies, especially those with a supernatural twist. Paramount estimates that Latino ticket buyers accounted for about 11 per cent of the US gross of the first Paranormal Activity film in 2009, rising to an estimated 19 per cent for the last sequel (Latinos make up 16.9 per cent of the US population.)
The moviegoer in question was a 15-year-old Latina who attended a Los Angeles research preview of Paranormal Activity 3 in 2011. Seated at a focus group after the test screening, the teen eloquently expressed some complaints about the production, but it was her resolute ownership of the story and its characters — rather than her critical insights — that made Goodman sit up. “She was referring to the film as if [the story were] real,” Goodman recalled.
So the studio, writer-director Christopher Landon (who has writing credits on the last three Paranormal Activity films) and producer Jason Blum set out to create a film that would be designed to appeal to Latino moviegoers, with the caveat that it not pander to them. “The audience is sophisticated and can see through something that’s inauthentic,” said Blum, who has produced all of the Paranormal Activity films, which have a total worldwide gross of $720.7 million. Added Landon: “We didn’t want to make a shameless cash grab.”
Because Paranormal Activity 4 was so disappointing, the creative team felt it had license to try different things, primarily by taking The Marked Ones out of a confined dwelling, as had largely been the decree before.