I wasn’t supposed to like this movie. In fact, I fully expected not to, since I haven’t really liked any of the Paranormal Activity installments. Besides, I’m a Critic, and The Marked Ones has not been well-received amongst my lot.
But gosh dang it, I liked it.
Firstly, many of the problems I had with earlier installments in the franchise have been eschewed; the way-too shaky cam, stupid people whom you didn’t care about doing stupid things, and too-long static surveillance-cam footage of pools masquerading as suspense.
The cam is still hand-held to be sure, but not so shaky as to induce vomiting. Jump-scares are kept to a minimum. The acting is certainly better all-around, although I still felt the lead Andrew Jacobs (Jesse) was the weak link. Thank goodness for the supporting cast of Jorge Diaz (Hector), Gabrielle Walsh (Marisol), Renee Victor (Jesse’s Grandmother), and Noemi Gonzalez (Evette), among others for bringing it home.
A good portion of the movie is spent just getting to know and like these characters, and it’s time well spent as much of it is genuinely funny. So much so that when they are put in danger (and make the occasional aforementioned stupid choices), we actually care about what happens to them. That’s a far cry from the first PA installment, where most of us couldn’t wait for Micah Sloat’s character to keep doing enough stupid things to get him killed far earlier than he did.
PA:TMO also gets a lot right on its own: there is not a single note of music in the movie to take you out of its hand-held, “found-footage” conceit. The supporting cast matters just as much as our lead. And except for an unwise dalliance with some night-vision (and some obvious dialogue to let you know that the characters cannot see in the dark), directorial choices are solid. The film generates tension by making you wonder what is around every POV corner. It also builds on its own plot lines, and then ultimately connections them to the other PA installments, particularly the first one. Now the way these connections are made may be unsatisfactory to some; then again, they may just be purposefully left obscure… at least until the next installment. And if that next one learns the lesson of this one well, then I look forward to seeing it.