Well… it was fun while it lasted. After five years and five movies, the Paranormal Activity franchise is, at last, dead on arrival. The final nail in the coffin? The anemic debut of the so-called "spin-off" installment, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, which attempted to capitalize on the first-week-of-January release date that's been so horror-friendly in past years (just look at the first-weekend grosses for Texas Chainsaw 3D and The Devil Inside) but wound up getting trounced by Frozen's dynamic duo of Elsa and Anna, who re-claimed the top spot following their film's seventh week in theaters.
Granted, The Marked Ones earned $18 million on a $5 million budget, which isn't chump change. But that's an enormous decrease from the previous installment, the widely-loathed Paranormal Activity 4, and the movie stands no chance of clearing the $100 million bar as the first and third installments did. While the series has one more chance to right itself with a planned sixth installment that's due out in October, the minds behind the series would be wise to use that opportunity to wrap its increasingly convoluted (and dull) mythology up for good. Here are five reasons why it's time for the Paranormal Activity brand to rest in peace.
5. Too Much Repetition
The big idea behind The Marked Ones was that it would take a time-out from the ongoing saga of Katie and Hunter -- the demon-possessed homeowner and the nephew she kidnaps for as-yet unrealized reasons -- and focus on an entirely new and (supposedly) unrelated set of characters: a pair of Latino teenagers in a working class L.A. neighborhood, Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz). (As has been much-discussed elsewhere, this creative change-up was dictated by the purely profit-minded decision to directly appeal to the franchise's substantial Hispanic fanbase. Rank commercialism? Sure, but at the same time that's one of the only ways you're gonna get diversity in Hollywood, at least at the studio level.) And while that infusion of new blood is welcome, it would have been nice if Christopher Landon (a longtime writer on the franchise who made his directorial debut with this installment) had actually thought up some new scenarios to plug these freshman faces into. Unfortunately, too much of The Marked Ones recycles sequences lifted not only from past PA movies, but also other latter-day found footage pictures… most notably the superhero yarn Chronicle. (A sequence where "marked one" Jesse tests out the powers that he's acquired from his brush with the paranormal is so similar to a moment in Chronicle, it should feature air quotes around it.) The most egregious bit of repetition comes in the film's climax, which once again features a chase through a strange house that's filled with members of the witchy coven that has emerged as the series' big bad. This finale killed the first time it was used in PA3, but sitting through it a second and third time in the successive installments has resulted in more yawns than chills.
4. The First-Person Camera Gimmicks Have Been Exhausted
PA1 offered the stationary bedroom camera, PA2 introduced home security footage and PA3 won the franchise with the VHS-camcorder-strapped-to-the-oscillating-fan trick. But by the time PA4 rolled around, the only fresh idea the filmmakers could come up with was to highlight a completely useless function of the Xbox Kinect. To its credit, The Marked Ones doesn't bother with trying to conjure up a new found footage gimmick, instead unfolding through the lens of the handheld digital camera passed back and forth between Jesse and Hector. It's an attempt to get back to the low-fi scares of the first movie and a tacit acknowledgement that -- short of embedding a lens in a character's eyeball (a la that opening segment in V/H/S 2) -- there are really only so many places a person can stick a camera.
3. An Overabundance of Mythology…
One of the pleasures of the first PA is that's it's a straightforward ghost story pitting two ordinary people against an angry poltergeist. Yes, there are hints at a larger backstory involving Katie's connection to the demon, but very little of that actually matters in terms of the film's driving plot. Subsequent installments, however, have doubled down on that backstory, haphazardly throwing in new elements (most notably that pesky coven of first-born son craving witches) that are intended to connect together to form a wider web of supernatural intrigue. There's only one problem…
2. …And Yet, No Forward Momentum
The PA sequels have been so focused on filling in gaps in the past, it's unclear where all this "intrigue" (and I use that term lightly) is meant to be heading in the future, to say nothing of the here and now. The problems started with PA2, which took place parallel to the events of the first movie… a canny way of selling the audience something old in the guise of it being new. Then PA3 ventured back 20 years into the past for an entirely unnecessary (though, fortunately, entertaining) origin story. Even when the series finally snapped back to the present with PA4, the creative masterminds were reluctant to push the larger story forward, resulting in 90 tedious minutes of wheel spinning. In its early scenes, at least, The Marked Ones feels like a trial run at moving the franchise away from serialization in favor of an anthology-based direction, which is arguably they approach they should have shot for all along. But then the final act goes out of its way to connect these events to the larger PA tapestry, right down to a late-inning cameo by Katie, who appears courtesy of a magical door to "unholy places" that serves as this film's primary contribution to the ongoing mythology. Once again, though, why this door is important and what the coven and/or Katie plans to do with it is a topic that's studiously avoided. Because why bother making creative choices that actually advance your story when staying in place is so much easier?
1. All Horror Has a Shelf Life
Some horror franchises last longer than others -- Friday the 13th got up to ten films before rebooting, Halloween reached eight and Saw and A Nightmare on Elm Street both hit seven -- but all ran out of inspiration somewhere around Movie #4 if not sooner. In that respect, the decline of Paranormal Activity happened right on schedule although the general awfulness of PA4 probably hastened its demise. (Had that film been halfway decent, The Marked Ones likely would have eked out a small victory over Frozen, with the true erosion kicking in when the sixth movie arrived in October). While Paramount's shareholders will no doubt be sad to see these Paranormal profits vanish into thin air, genre fans should be anticipating where the next horror phenom is going to emerge from. And, a decade from now, when Paranormal Activity is inevitably revived and rebooted, we may actually welcome it back with a nostalgic fondness instead of a "This again?" weariness.
Get showtimes and tickets for this movie from Fandango.
MOST RECENT POSTS