Not once after exiting the theater from a screening of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY did I think Oren Peli’s micro-budget horror would become the new reigning horror franchise. Funny how all that has changed five years, four sequels (five come this October), and hundreds of jump-scares later. Ain’t that the way? Did anyone think SAW would turn into the mammoth series it became, or hell, any film that’s been followed with a multitude of numerical successors? With that digression out of the way, I once again found myself seated at the midnight premiere for the latest installment: PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES. Touted as a spinoff from the demonic doings of Katie and Toby, THE MARKED ONES is actually more of a sequel than PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4 as it greatly expands upon the mythology while tying quite nicely into the main storyline.

While there are quite a few returning faces lurking throughout, THE MARKED ONES follows newcomer Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), the unlucky teenager I’m sure you’ve already unsurprisingly surmised as the titular marked one. Before delving into what the series is best known for, we’re given a good chunk of time to get to know Jesse and those that fill his life. Ya know, actual character development! This feels refreshing, especially since the lead and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) are surprisingly likeable; something of a rare commodity in a franchise filled with unlikable males. Instead of counting the minutes until their demise, I found myself genuinely caring for Jesse & Hector as the film progressed. It’s a sad affair when modern horror films are filled with forgettable death fodder (one of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY‘s major offenses), but writer/director Christopher Landon corrects these wrongs by giving us plenty of time to get to know these guys before shit hits the fan.

Also corrected here is the unwillingness to answer questions raised in prior entries. It doesn’t fully spill the beans on the witch covens endgame, but it pulls back the curtain just enough to entice discussion and keep things fresh. A highlight of THE MARKED ONES is the focus on fleshing out the mythology, and it leads to some unexpectedly rewarding holy-shit moments. This was sorely lacking in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 4, amongst other things, and had me ready to throw in the towel after the high of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 3. To boot, the “Night 1” gimmickry has been eighty-sixed. There’s much more sinister stuff at play than slamming doors and watching characters sleep; while there are still jump-scares aplenty, an inventive moment involving a game of Simon provides ample atmospheric chills that harkens back to PARANORMAL 3‘s oscillating fan-camera.

Basically, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES is invigorating. The scares hit just as intended, and things get progressively dark & truly weird as Jesse slowly submits to possession. It’s a step in the right direction, and gives the franchise a number of exciting possibilities to pursue. Let’s hope my enthusiasm and eagerness for this October‘s PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 5 isn’t in vain.

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