Jessie begins experiencing a number of disturbing and unexplainable things after the death of his neighbor. As he investigates, it isn't long before Jessie finds he's been marked for possession by a malevolent demonic entity, and it's only a matter of time before he is completely under its control...
The team behind the 'Paranormal Activity' franchise takes a slight detour from the usual demonic hauntings in the suburbs and pays a visit to the highly superstitious families of the urban city in 'The Marked Ones.' Or rather, it's another found-footage tale within the 'Paranormal Activity' universe meant to placate fans until part five hits theaters later this year, breaking with the terrifying tradition of releasing a new installment every year. In fact, the plot is not a direct sequel in the series, although the central premise and the filmmaking style remain essentially the same: someone decides to record meaningless daily activities and miraculously, their lives become interesting due to an unexpected ghostly presence.
Described as more of a cousin — a very distant, never invited to family events cousin when you really think about it — to the franchise, the story follows recent high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs). Soon after, he spends his gift money on the purchase of a digital camera he haggled over at a pawn shop. In one of the funnier moments, Jesse and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) record some gang members from across the street and are quickly chased.
Nevertheless, not long after, the boys start growing more curious about the creepy activities of the downstairs neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), a big angry woman the kids in the apartment complex call a witch. This is one of a few twists from the series because the other movies never directly confronted that aspect of the storyline — at least, not as plainly and immediately as the filmmakers do here. The last two installments made reference to some clandestine coven but reserved their involvement until the final moments. In 'The Marked Ones,' the two friends fool around with the camera and spy on Anna through the air vent as she performs a bizarre ritual, and they listen intently to the chilling cries and moans coming from the woman's bedroom.
The plot grows stranger and a bit creepier when the ill-tempered bruja is shot dead and the only suspect is Oscar (Carlos Pratts), a former classmate that suffers from a strange oily-black eye infection. Jesse and he apparently share the same dilemma: something about bite marks on their arms, hence the film's title. Except that Jesse develops some rather unusual abilities along with going through some troubling hormonal changes, like pretending to be a backup dancer in Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" music video or pulling extremely long nose hairs. As things progress for the worse, another school friend, Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh), and Jesse's awesomely sweet abuelita (Renee Victor) join Hector in uncovering the paranormal mystery behind Jesse's odd behavior.
Written by Christopher B. Landon, who moves up to director's chair after writing the last three installments, 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' is blatantly marketed to Latino audiences, which would suggest they are probably a major reason for the franchise's continued success. While the scares and creepiness are pretty mild compared to the first three films, the movie is nonetheless an improvement over the mostly dull fourth entry with several effectively spooky, haunted-carnival-house moments. It works decently well as a standalone entry, but Landon also does great at relating the events back to the original storyline, functioning much like a parallel subplot that expands on the whole. In the end, it's an entertaining bookmark while waiting for the fifth chapter in the series.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Paramount Home Entertainment brings 'Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' as a two-disc combo pack with a code for an UltraViolet Digital Copy. The Region Free, BD50 disc sits comfortably on the panel opposite a DVD-9 copy. Both are inside a blue, eco-vortex keepcase with a lenticular slipcover. At startup, viewers are taken to a static menu screen which changes similar to the cover art. On the Blu-ray, owners may choose between the 84-minute theatrical cut and the 100-minute unrated version. The difference between the two is negligible with extra footage that only prolongs the inevitable.
Like others in the franchise, the fifth entry in the 'Paranormal Activity' series arrives with a deliberately stylized photography that's mostly of somewhat low quality but decently detailed nonetheless. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode is arguably the sharpest, showing plenty of fine, distinct lines in clothing, furniture and a variety of background information. Facial complexions are highly revealing with natural, lifelike textures of the entire cast.
However, the 1.78:1 image shows the same sterile, digital quality that's generally unattractive with contrast that mostly bland and rather flat, making a several highlights bloom and creating a tad of posterization. On the other hand, colors are bright and cleanly rendered with primaries looking particularly bold and vibrant. Blacks are equally excellent with shadows that penetrate deep into the background and nicely add to the suspense. Overall, the high-def transfer is pleasing and by far the strongest picture quality of the entire series.
Although a mostly front-heavy presentation, the DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack leaves little to complain about. Much of the action is maintained in the center, yet there's a good sense of presence and fidelity throughout. It never feels constrained or limited with a dynamic range that's noticeably extensive and highly detailed.
To create tension and raise the fear-factor, off-screen activity during the scariest moments is convincing with excellent, smooth movement between all three channels. Going into the last quarter of the runtime, the surrounds are employed with superb directionality and panning, not only enhancing the soundfield to pleasing effect but also generating a few satisfyingly immersive moments. Low-frequency effects are quite palpable and effective but also reserved for the appropriate moments, which are those when demonic spirits are expected to be in the room. Through all this, vocals remain crystalline and well-prioritized, making this a surprisingly enjoyable lossless mix fans will thoroughly enjoy.
The team behind the 'Paranormal Activity' franchise takes a slight detour from the usual demonic hauntings in the suburbs and pays a visit to the highly superstitious families of the urban city in 'The Marked Ones.' Blatantly marketed to Latino audiences, the movie is nonetheless an improvement over the last entry and is reasonably effective as the parallel cousin to the original film series. The Blu-ray arrives with a very satisfying audio and video presentation but supplements are scarily lacking. The overall package is a decent addition to the collection and fans will be generally pleased with the purchase while others should rent first.