RATING: 2.5 stars (out of 4)
There have been so many Paranormal Activity movies now that the studio has lost count and given up on numbering them. Now it just haphazardly assigns phrases as subtitles. This one is Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, and the next movies in the annual series could well be Paranormal Activity: Chalkboard Ninja Delight or Paranormal Activity: Look, There’s a Lizard.
If you’ve seen 10 Paranormal Activity movies, you’ve seen ‘em all. Ghost demons, whose specialize in terrorizing saps who tote around grainy 1980s camcorders that they never, ever turn off, unleash their special brand of terror, which is doing absolutely nothing. They stalk, invisibly, in the shadows, hour after hour, as the grainy 1980s camcorders document it all. Then they do that some more. And then some more. And after that, a bit more. And every once in a while, they get people up out of bed and make them stand in the corner, and sometimes bend backwards and levitate. Chilling stuff.
But lest the ghost demons responsible for the slow-moving calamities in the horror franchise could be accused of a lack of creativity, they show some new tricks in the new movie. Not only do they prove to be equal opportunity haunters by invading South Central to mess with a grainy 1980s camcorder-toting Mexican family, but they no longer mess with people as they sleep. Now they grant their haunt-ees sinister superpowers and speak to them by lighting up the old-school patterned light game Simon. This time, for the ghost demons, it’s personal.
Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is the doomed beneficiary of the ghostly superpowers, which hook him up with the demonic version of a guardian angel. As his buddies roll film, he falls backward off of stools, only to float in the air, nails ollies on apartment staircases and hadoukens muggers who jump him at vending machines. With great power, though, as Jesse finds, comes great annoyances. Like suddenly flipping out, donning a ghost demon face and murdering your friends, pets and nearby pudgy old ladies.
Paranormal Activity movies are all about the slow, slow burn, and this one is no different. While there are some halfway decent scares here, they are neutered by cheap, “gotcha” shocks that characters play on one another as jokes to shatter the tension. This one pulls out that trick a few times too many, robbing it of its effect and making the few scares worth waiting for more funny than shocking.
I found myself entertained by the movie more for its ghetto-fabulous slice-of-life moments early on rather than its convoluted and clumsy attempts to make you tip over your popcorn. Jesse and his friends are hilarious, screwing up black market fireworks launches, peeking in on naked neighbors, hiding their antics from the everpresent abuela and whining that there’s nothing to eat but tortillas. I want a ghost demon-free version HBO miniseries of these guys doing their thing, and I want a marathon of that miniseries on HBO’s semiannual free preview weekends.
Instead, though, we’re stuck with this ghost-demonized version that lasts less than an hour and a half, and we’ve got to pay the ransom of a movie ticket price to pay for it. You’re better off waiting a few months, when teasers forParanormal Activity: Tokyo Drift start popping up online and this one is free on Netflix.
Starring Andrew Jacobs. Eddie J. Fernandez and Molly Ephraim. Written and directed by Christopher Landon. Rated R. 84 minutes.