I wrote my first Redhead Temper post partly about the future (and past) of the Paranormal Activity series, specifically the announcement that a Spanish spin-off was in the works.
The trailer for this spin-off, entitled “The Marked Ones,” has finally arrived. And I don’t honestly know how to feel about it. And what better way to work through my tormented emotions and muddled reactions than to compose a blog post about them?
Let us begin at the beginning, shall we? The trailer opens with loud Spanish music, and found footage shots of what is revealed to be Oxnard, California. These establishing shots, so to speak, establish a tone more reminiscent of an urban, ethnic remake of Project X (a found footage film from 2012 that centered around an out-of-control party, my complaint always being that found footage works best for genre films and that if wanted to see drunken escapades on shaky cams we would just find those on the internet instead of spending money to see them played out haphazardly on an unnecessarily large screen).
Now, before I proceed, let me just clarify that given the new characters being introduced into the Paranormal mythological canon, I cannot complain that the trailer decides to focus slightly on this new environment, seeing as we are, mostly, unfamiliar with how it will function within said canon. Besides, 30 seconds in, we get what we came here in droves for for (and flock to this trailer we did: this official trailer distributed by the Paranormal Activity YouTube account 502, 317 views in approximately 24 hours).
Our handheld-camera-wielding surrogate walks us through a dark and disheveled “crime scene,” breaking (or, in a way, I suppose following) the main rule of horror films perfectly: sticking his nose, and camera, where he doesn’t belong.
As much as I want to hope and even assume this film will be different and daring in its use of found footage and its playing with the history that has been building with each subsequent installment, his discovery of a box of VHS tapes once belonging to (and documenting, presumably) Katie and Kristi makes me feel that been-there-done-that sense of franchise fatigue, recalling the entire premise and structure of Paranormal Activity 3 (which, in and of itself I’m not necessarily knocking; I was genuinely pleased and terrified by the 2011 entry in all its old-fashioned surveillance glory).
Similarly, there is the “black magic stuff” mentioned in the trailer, as the camera’s flashlight illuminates things like dream catchers and candles, which are not scary, by the way; they must not have gotten the memo that scary basements really have to up their ante now, at least for me, if they ever want to compete with the creepiness of Cabin in the Woods‘ fateful underground trap of choices. Anyway, the witchcraft suggestion too reminds me of the third film, and I’m only intrigued so far as I’m hoping there is something more to this aspect of the film than merely referencing a tired trope has already come before in the previous films without advancing it in new and interesting directions.
Speaking of new and interesting directions, I will say that to have a spin-off of this sort at all does carry with it the potential, and a simultaneous sense of dread and expectation for fans like myself, for breathing life into a series which increasingly bogged itself down in its own pretentious form and spiraling, sputtering back story that became just as trite as the very genre films that the original Paranormal Activity seemed to be so separate from back in 2009.
What really threw me in a positive way, no pun intended, was the moment in this trailer where something unseen propels two aggressors violently off of our protagonist. But from here, everything else seems pretty safe. Even the creepiest moment of the trailer, which I’ll admit grossed me out (anyone pulling anything out of their eye or face is bound to get me) reminds me of a scene in the Evil Dead remake from last year, and I was simultaneously loving the slight gore at the same time as feeling disappointed that even these films have ventured towards that end of the spectrum, when what made them so scary to begin with was a minimalist approach to things going bump in the night.
Then we have Kristi’s step daughter telling a character everything we already know even though the characters she is talking to do not, therefore wasting our time somewhat. Then, she reveals that when someone is marked they become the host. The whole movie is given to us in a nutshell then, even though if this was going to turn into a typical possession movie (which, more or less, it looks like it would have) we would eventually come to the oh-so-predictable portion where characters leaf through ancient demonic texts and talk to creepy but all-knowing experts about the nature of the evil at hand. I just wish the trailer didn’t spoon-feed that part to us so neatly, because now there is no surprise. Then again, why not give it away; anyone already familiar with this aspect of the films’ driving supernatural force could guess precisely what is happening to these new characters, making me question what the point is of even introducing them to us at all.
So, my current consensus is this: yes, there were some gleefully creepy moments particularly in the rapidly-edited latter 20 seconds or so of the trailer. But overall, I can’t help but wonder if this film will indeed rejuvenate or ruin (further) the franchise or if it maybe will even go so far as to ignore the potential for found footage genre film making altogether. The trailer’s use of handheld and shaky first person camera work makes it feel realistic enough, sure, but if we’re dealing with nothing more than an old fashioned possession story with a little bit of Santeria thrown into the mix for the sake of trying desperately to be different just out of principle, then we’re neither adding anything useful to the series nor anything exciting to the subgenre as a whole, which I would argue the original three films actually did. I guess we’ll have to wait until its release in January of 2014 to find out if my predictions (and concerns) are correct or (hopefully) not.