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Franchise spinoff leaves home for new activities

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Paramount Pictures
Mirror mirror on the wall: The Paranormal Activity franchise moves to an apartment complex in Los Angeles for its fifth installment.

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Paramount Pictures Mirror mirror on the wall: The Paranormal Activity franchise moves to an apartment complex in Los Angeles for its fifth installment.

At its best, the Paranormal Activity franchise has delivered pure existential horror in its revamping of the haunted-house genre.

You still get the bumps and thuds and inexplicable events of, say, Poltergeist, but large portions of the movies consist of long, ponderous shots of empty rooms, with the audience waiting breathlessly for something to happen.

(The franchise's real ingenuity is that it leaves the heavy lifting of fear-invoking to the audience's collective imagination.)

The fifth instalment, which may be more of a spinoff than a proper sequel, offers a change-up: less lingering dread, more action.

Instead of being set in another white-bread suburban McMansion, the setting is a Latino community in Los Angeles, where a young man named Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) is graduating from high school. He and his best friend Hector (Jorge Diaz) enjoy speculating about the strange old woman who lives in the apartment beneath Jesse's home, given the occasional screams and moans emanating from her place. Their suspicions she may be a bruja -- a witch -- are confirmed when they send their video camera down a heating vent to witness a weird ritual involving a naked woman and the application of the circle-within-a-triangle symbol denoting the coven referred to in the last two films.

But when the bruja is murdered by a most unlikely killer, the two friends and Jesse's not-quite girlfriend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) are compelled to dig deeper into her death. It emerges that Jesse, now in possession of inexplicable powers, has been the object of the dead woman's attention since birth. And as his powers increase, Jesse's personality undergoes a terrible change.

The change in Paranormal Activity? Not so terrible.

The thrills and found-footage esthetic are there, especially in the unusually action-packed denouement, but the addition of humour (thank you, Jorge Diaz), sex and a time-warp-y wrinkle give some much-needed texture to a franchise that was getting a little stale, especially in the dull, redundant fourth instalment from 2012.

This chapter deliberately plays to the franchise's large Latino fan base, but in the process, writer-director Christopher Landon, who wrote all the PA sequels, connects with everyone else too... or at least those of us eager to get past the white-kids-in-peril tropes and a glacially paced approach to revealing the supernatural mythology behind the jump-scares.

Pardon the ethnic metaphor, but The Marked Ones gives a tequila shot to a franchise that was starting to feel like a white-wine spritzer halfway into losing its fizz.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 G3

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