There have been precisely 1,179 movies in the Paranormal Activity series, about a fame-whore demon and the feckless humans who capture him on video. It's daunting. But even if you've never seen a PA movie, or you've missed a few, the new spin-off is a great intro to the series. It's fresh, scary and bursting with ideas.
Minor spoilers ahead...
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones doesn't require you to have seen any of the other movies in the series, although there are some shout-outs and links to the previous films. As the film goes along, it slowly opens out and introduces more of the mythos, eventually expanding it beyond what we've seen in the other films — but it's also a pretty decent primer in the universe and its rules.
Although be warned: the ending might have a smidge more impact if you've seen the first movie.
And in addition to being scary, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones is also thrilling, which is a different quality of excitement. This film serves up some jump-scares, but also a certain amount of wild and crazy thrills and a number of wacky surprises. At no point, do you wind up staring at surveillance-camera footage of a swimming pool, or being freaked out by blurry shadows.
The Marked Ones is fun enough, and wild enough, that it doesn't just stand alone and serve as a decent introduction to the whole Paranormal Activity shebang — it also leaves you feeling as though the Paranormal universe is big enough to support a ton of different stories, and that it can be more than just the saga of that one extended family from the other films.
So in Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, these two dudes named Jesse and Hector have just graduated from high school, and they're goofing off with a video camera they borrowed from Jesse's dad. They use the camcorder to spy on the spooky witch who lives downstairs. And after the witch is murdered by one of their friends, they can't help snooping around her apartment. And that's when the crazy shit really starts to happen.
You can't help feeling for these two horny teenage dudes who just want to have some excitement in their lives and maybe get laid. The goofy relatability of these guys is a huge part of why this film works as well as it does — at one point, there's a long sequence involving drawing a penis on one of the guy's faces while he sleeps, and he doesn't notice for a long, long time. Watching this guy deliver lots of portentous expository dialogue about witches and dark magic with a penis drawn on his face is kind of amazing.
The other thing that's a huge plus, this time around, is the handheld camerawork (which gets shakey but not insanely so.) There's almost no surveillance-camera footage this time around, and instead the visual grammar of the film winds up feeling a bit more like Chronicle — especially when Jesse starts displaying demonic superpowers.
And the surprises keep coming, with enough weird off-the-wall ideas to keep the film from ever feeling stale. The demon communicates with Hector and Jesse not through a Ouija board, but rather through a Simon toy from the 1980s, flashing green for "Yes" and red for "No" in response to their questions.
Much has been made of the fact that The Marked Ones is a "Latin" spinoff of the Paranormal Activity films. But the biggest difference you might notice is that it takes place in an apartment building rather than a standalone house — which adds to the sense of pervasive dread, what with the witch's home being right downstairs.
The best thing about The Marked Ones is the way it slowly ramps up the feeling of systemic demonic machinations, until you can really believe that sinister things are happening everywhere you look. In that way, this film does a lot to justify the continued existence of the Paranormal films.