Sunday, January 19, 2014

Myth-guided intentions: Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

By a scheduling stroke of luck, I was able to see Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones last Thursday. The crowd was sparse, especially compared to the opening weekend crowds I've enjoyed for the preceding four films. Also, I was the only white guy at the showing. I wouldn't usually mention something like this, but it might mean something in regards to this film. Or, it could just mean that I live in an area that is 60 percent Hispanic.

PA:MO is set in Oxnard, California, among the Spanish-speaking community there. There are some characters in the film who only speak Spanish. I got the gist of things, but I think the rest of the audience I saw the film with may have gotten more out of it because there were no subtitles. On the other hand, not being able to understand a few characters increased my sense of "otherness." I felt more like I was peeking on a situation I shouldn't have been allowed to see.

The previous four films have all introduced a technical aspect to how the "found footage" of the film is recorded. In some cases (PA4) the technical aspects have been the best part of the film. In this take, however, the only tech leap we get is the introduction -- and only sparingly -- of a GoPro camera. Instead, writer/director Christopher Landon focused on telling the story. That story (a reclusive neighbor is murdered in recent high school graduate Jesse's apartment complex. He and his friend Hector do some snooping and soon Jesse experiences weird shit happening around and to him. Shit continues to get weirder as the brief 84 minutes of the film progress), fills in some of the plot holes of the franchise without focusing on any of the characters from previous installments. The connections are seemingly vague but they play out well. I was particularly pleased to see Ali Rey (Molly Ephraim) from PA2 show up to help our new heroes find the truth. After her turn in PA2, I was left wondering what happened to her. She gets one scene but I hope she becomes the focus of PA5. She knows even more than she lets one in her brief appearance.

There are other connections which I won't spoil for you, but they enhance the sense of an overriding mythology which any great horror franchise needs. I find it interesting how a franchise that started as a haunted house story has become a story about witchcraft and generational evil. The folks behind the scenes have definitely decided to push the limits from what we may have thought their original intentions might have been.

While I applaud the filmmakers for focusing on story and making an overall better film than PA4, I will tell you that PA:MO is not as scary as any of its predecessors. If the story hadn't compensated for the lack of bone-chilling scares, I might be done with the series. Instead, my hopes for the next installment (due Oct. 24, 2014) have been raised.

On a side note, my screening including a trailer for Devil's Due, which opened this weekend. The film looks good, but, as a still-new parent, I'm not ready to see something like that. If you do see it, let me know how it is.

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