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Paranormal Activity: The Marked ones Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD Review

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones (2014) movie poster Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

Theatrical Release: January 3, 2014 / Running Time: 84 Minutes (theatrical), 101 Minutes (extended) / Rating: R (theatrical), Unrated (extended)

Director: Christopher Landon / Writers: Christopher Landon (screenplay); Oren Peli (film Paranormal Activity)

Cast: Andrew Jacobs (Jesse Arista), Jorge Diaz (Hector Estrella), Gabrielle Walsh (Marisol Vargas), Renee Victor (Irma Arista), Noemi Gonzalez (Evette Arista), David Saucedo (Cesar Arista), Gloria Sandoval (Ana Sanchez), Richard Cabral (Arturo Lopez), Carlos Pratts (Oscar Lopez), Juan Vasquez (Santo), Carlos Romeo Arana Figuera (Mauro), Molly Ephraim (Ali Rey), Brent Gutierrez (Diego), Alonso Alvarez (Eber), Katie Featherston (Katie), Micah Sloat (Micah)

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Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD DVD / Instant Video: Theatrical Unrated

Last October marked the first since 2008 in which Paramount Pictures did not have a Paranormal Activity film in theaters. It may have looked like surrender, much like the one that Lionsgate eventually,
begrudgingly gave their Saw franchise whose thunder the even more frugal and fruitful Paranormal series stole. In fact, the absence of a new Paranormal installment did not signal the end of an era but a change in strategy. Instead of the usual pre-Halloween debut for a sequel, Paramount released spin-off film Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones to theaters in January, a month when movies are expected to be bad and one in which they can succeed despite a lack of quality.

Grossing over $86 million worldwide on a production budget of just $5 million, Marked Ones must be considered a success commercially. At the same time, its returns were by far the brand's lowest to date. The reviews were also worse than those of any installment but the deservedly maligned Paranormal Activity 4. Christopher Landon, who wrote that film and the two sequels before it, gets promoted to director on Marked Ones in addition to serving as its only credited scribe.

In "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones", this old electronic Simon game seems to respond to Yes or No questions on its own.

The Marked Ones centers on Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), two best friends who have just graduated high school together with the Class of 2012 in Oxnard, California. Intrigued by strange noises they hear through a vent, they thread a camera inside it and capture neighbors engaged in some naked ritual. It's perhaps their first brush with the otherworldly, but certainly not their last.

Jesse wakes up one morning with suspicious bite marks that seem to bestow upon him powers comparable to those gifted to Peter Parker by that radioactive spider. Jesse and Hector document his newfound gifts, which find him able to inflate an air mattress in just a few seconds, keep his balance while leaning to extreme angles, and hurl gang members with a flick of the wrist. Of course, with great power comes great unrest. (As usual, a dog is the first to notice something amiss.) While exploring the murder scene from which they witnessed class valedictorian uncharacteristically fleeing, the two friends discover that Jesse may be targeted by a coven of witches who abduct first-born sons around the world. There's also an old electronic Simon game functioning as a kind of Ouija board as it uses its red and green lights to answer Yes or No questions.

The Marked Ones still belongs to the found footage genre, but it is less homebound and surveillancey in its design. With Hector usually in control, the camera keeps running even when it doesn't make sense to self-document, as in a crashed party or in the climax when a couple of armed gang members lead a rescue mission. The video is often shaky, but disbelief isn't hard to suspend.

Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) has something in his eye in this unsettling shot. It wouldn't be a "Paranormal Activity" movie without a Katie Featherston sighting.

With a subtitle instead of a number, this film is freed from establishing a firm connection to the original film's couple, although it still seizes an opportunity for a context-supplying Katie Featherston cameo that proves Landon is at least giving this some thought as a film universe. (Series alums Micah Sloan and Molly Ephraim also appear briefly.) One negative consequence from that link and the title is that we are constantly aware that The Marked Ones isn't blazing entirely new trails.
This is a film that would seem so much more creative without the Paranormal series already standing as Hollywood's most extraordinary return on investment. Even if we set aside the similar high-concept movies that paved the way, like The Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield, the design has become just too commonplace to make the waves Paranormal films not so long ago did.

One of the more notable features of The Marked Ones is its use of a Latino cast. You can easily argue that Landon and company are pandering to one of supernatural horror's most devout demographics. At the same time, such prominent Latino representation in mainstream American films is extremely rare. While African Americans have become an integral part of the business and enjoy plenty of movies where they are the focus, other minority groups are continually marginalized. I don't know that this film is worth praising on that basis any more than the Harold & Kumar comedies warrant celebration for their use of protagonists of Asian and Indian descent. Still, there is a distinct culture on display and one almost never seen in wide release feature films.

Following the pattern set by its predecessors, The Marked Ones hits Blu-ray combo pack and DVD this week, the Blu-ray part of the former treating it to both theatrical and unrated cuts. The latter runs nearly 17 full minutes longer, qualifying as more than mere sales gimmick. The difference is comprised of many scenes and extensions woven throughout the film, including a substantial family party scene.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones Blu-ray + DVD + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese, DVS)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, DVS)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, Portuguese; Blu-ray Film only: English SDH
DVD Closed Captioned; Blu-ray Extras Subtitled
Release Date: April 8, 2014 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (BD-50 & DVD-9)
Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase in Lenticular Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as standalone DVD ($29.98 SRP)
and on Amazon Instant Video (Theatrical, Unrated)

VIDEO and AUDIO

The picture quality on Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones' Blu-ray is somewhere in between a movie actually shot by ordinary teenagers and a polished studio production. The 1.78:1 picture runs into the limitations of minimally-lit consumer grade digital video, showing some grain and lacking detail in places. Mexican director of photography Gonzalo Amat still keeps things professional while conveying the shaky, casual documentation of the narrative. In other words, the video is just as good as it can be without being an obvious studio film betraying its design.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio isn't quite as striking as past Paranormal Activity movies have been, with domestic disturbances and jolting noises hardly featuring. The recordings are nonetheless clean, but again stop short of falling into the obvious, perfect post-production techniques.

The unsubtitled Spanish rantings of Jesse's religious grandmother (Renee Victor) are preserved in the Blu-ray's Found Footage section. The DVD's main menu lacks an Extras section and the face-morphing effect, but adds a previews listing.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Like the other Paranormal movies, this one neglects to provide any making-of content (hey, why let others know the secret to printing money?).

What it does provide in addition to the extended cut addressed above is "Found Footage", otherwise known as deleted scenes. These seven clips run a total of 10 minutes and 47 seconds. They show us more of Jesse's grandmother (Renee Victor), whose Spanish remarks go untranslated, and a shop's religious artifacts which are later used ritualistically.

The DVD doesn't include the unrated version or the found footage. It opens with trailers for Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and Ghost Team One, some of which the Blu-ray presently streams at its start. Before repeating those, the Previews listing adds a trailer for The Wolf of Wall Street.

As with the glitchy studio logo opening the film, Paramount moves closer to treating this like a regular movie with a menu modeled after the cover art. Silent and usually static, the menu changes as you navigate it. The Blu-ray lets you set bookmarks but doesn't make resuming playback any easier than that.

In the same vein as the menu, the creative lenticular-faced slipcover turns Jesse from normal to skeletal. An insert supplying your Digital HD and UltraViolet redemption code and promoting the other Paranormal Activity Blu-rays joins the two plainly-labeled discs in the eco-friendly keepcase.

Jesse Arista (Andrew Jacobs) hasn't been himself lately.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones deserves credit for moving things in a different direction and for some genuinely creepy moments. But, on the whole, the novelty and thrill seems to have worn off of these absurdly lucrative found footage horror flicks that avoid horror classification as long as they possibly can. A slight improvement over the sour fourquel but not enough to breed hope for October's fivequel, this film warrants a look only from those still appreciating this subgenre as it tries hard to resist fatigue.

Paramount's combo pack delivers two distinct cuts of the film and some deletions that may interest those who loved the movie and delusional completists. Still, there's not a whole lot about this package to get excited about, no matter how much you enjoyed some of its predecessors.

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Blu-ray Combo Pack / DVD / Instant Video: Theatrical Unrated

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Related Reviews:
Paranormal Activity 2 Paranormal Activity 3 Paranormal Activity 4
The Conjuring Insidious Insidious: Chapter 2 Chronicle Dark Skies The Last Exorcism
January Horror: Cloverfield The Rite The Devil Inside Mama The Uninvited

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Reviewed April 6, 2014.



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