Es la vida paranormal en el barrio: Notes on Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

The Marked Ones changes up the setting and the typical characters of the Paranormal franchise. It's refreshing in some respects but it's not enough to make this a good horror film.

Could it be that this genre exercise is one of the few recent mainstream Stateside releases to even attempt to depict a certain segment of Mexican-American family life in a believable way? If anyone knows of another one, please tell me.

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I followed director Christopher Landon from his promising but flawed 2010 feature debut, Burning Palms, to this, the 5th installment of the found-footage horror franchise. (Landon wrote the screenplays for each sequel to Paranormal Activity, I discovered, but this is the only one he’s directed.)

I thought he showed a genuine feel for Los Angeles locales and subcultures in Burning Palms and that affinity is almost enough to revive the by-now-rote scare tactics and cheesy, murky plot maneuvers of a played-out series. I think I’ve watched them all and PA 4 was worthless. Unlike all the previous ones, however, not only are the characters in The Marked Ones detailed in a way that they’re not in the others but they’re also allowed to be funny and sexy.

One of the lead characters, Hector, played by natural comic Jorge Diaz, wears a series of mocking, mildly politically incorrect t-shirts, including my favorite, Powered by Frijoles. There’s a knowing self-consciousness in the film that all the others lacked, which perhaps reflects the media savvy of the target demographic — urban Latino young people.

The central characters are therefore younger than the ones seen in the other films. They’re fresh out of high school, share an easy rapport and although they aren’t involved in gangs, and are in fact afraid of them, in a funny twist they eventually find themselves forced to enlist the help of some gang members to retrieve their friend from a coven of witches.

One of the most fun scenes depicts these “good” kids’ crashing a banger party with their video camera. It’s unnecessary in terms of plot but speaks to Landon’s affection for the characters and their milieu, which the film overflows with. But the real fun is how certain Latino stereotypes — the superstitious non-English-speaking abuela, for instance — are indulged with a wink to the audience. Also, while the series’ white suburban families and their homes look and feel pretty much alike, the events in The Marked Ones take place all over the neighborhood, relieving the expected bland, blanco interior monotony.

Is it enough to make this a great film, or even a good horror film? Well, no, although some of the effects and scares were cool —I liked the surreal visual of the expanding and contracting corner of a room — and I appreciated the mischievous lack of justification for most of the diegetic camera footage. Notably, there’s no security-camera footage, as there usually is in these films, but that speaks to the economic situation of the characters.

But, in a very white example of a very white genre, it was a relief to see brown faces, hear Spanish spoken, and to see some smiles for a change.

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