A grammatical colon is defined as “separating two clauses of which the second expands or illustrates the first”. A movie title colon is typically defined as “Here’s more of that thing that has proved to be profitable before.” With a few notable exceptions (I’m looking at you 2001: A Space Odyssey”) a colon is a pretty clear indicator that your about to watch a cash cow traipse across the screen. In the case of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, written and directed by Christopher Landon, that colon is not only an indicator it also seems to be the death rattle of this once promising franchise.
Paranormal Activity:The Marked Ones opens with the graduation of Jesse and the subsequent celebration, all filmed with the family’s glorious new camcorder. We rush through several disjointed scenes of familial and neighbor introductions, all in the name of found footage exposition, until we reach the crux of the film, witches and demons. The trouble is that journey from exposition to action is so fragmented and random that an audience member never really has a chance to ever care about anything. The first act of the film plays like “Jackass” but with the promise of ghosts. A GoPro is introduced for no real reason except for a stunt that involves a laundry basket and stairs.
One might assume that weird moment would be to establish the use of the GoPro in order to sidestep any of those “why are they still filming?” issues that found footage has ran into. But, nope. It’s just a gimmick that is there for its own weird grasp at entertainment. The GoPro disappears as quickly as it appears and we’re back to the camcorder and that burning question, “Shouldn’t he just drop the camera?”. And that little example is pretty indicative with what is wrong with this movie. It presents all of the found footage problems with no real unique solutions. In short, it has no reason to exist.
This isn’t to say that it doesn’t try to slam in the mythos of the other films in its final act. It does. It tries so hard. In fact, it tries so hard that the third act is a frenetic attempt at world-building that results in unintentional laughter and all the wrong kinds of awe. The makers of the film wanted to have it both ways. The first half of the film is a string of exposition and “Jackass” style stunts that results in desperate attempts at laughs. The second half of the film remembers that this is supposed to be a horror film that fits into this franchise. Exposition and inter-franchise references fly fast and loose, as if the film realizes it’s running out of time.
The fact, though, is that the franchise is most likely running out of time. A small film made out of a clever idea and some ingenuity has been stretched into as much explanatory narrative as it probably can. With every new film, and every new bit of information, this franchise just gets sillier and sillier. The scares are no longer scares, they are they execution of jump scares that everyone sees coming, because they’ve happened four times before now. In this same way, the tension is never tense, it’s just annoying. If any character in this film ever made a decision anywhere near logic, it would just be the story of two boys with a camcorder riding laundry baskets down questionable slopes.
All of this leads to the relative short running time of Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones to be especially laborious. Nothing feels new, nothing feels necessary, everything feels stale. In the horror genre especially, this is a sign of failure. If tension, fear, and unpredictability is replaced by effects, stunts, and jokes you don’t have a film, you have a cash cow. In this case, this cash cow seems especially sickly, wobbling towards its end credits with the gusto of an actual cow towards the slaughterhouse.