Horror trilogies are extremely rare, but the first three Paranormal Activity movies would have made a great one. But, alas, Hollywood is a business and that great track record was tarnished by the disappointingly banal Paranormal Activity 4. The latest entry in the found-footage saga is a spinoff film entitled Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and even though it can’t reach the heights of the original films, it is a clear improvement over its predecessor. Unlike the previous films, this one features a Latino cast that actually takes the camera outside of the home. It’s a refreshing change of pace and it could have resulted in a solid film had it not been for several in-your-face action moments and a lousy third act.

Taking place during the summer of 2012, recent high school graduate Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) lives in an apartment building and spends his time clowning around with friends Hector (Jorge Diaz) and Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). In the apartment below him lives an old woman named Ana (Gloria Sandoval), who is rumored to be a witch. When Ana is found murdered, Jesse and Hector let curiosity get the better of them and venture into Ana’s apartment. Inside, they find lots of creepy stuff: ritual-like symbols, a black magic table and even a picture of Jesse to top it all off. Over the next few days, strange things begin happening to Jesse, among which include the appearance of a strange bite mark and an increased sense of power. Jesse and his friends soon learn that he has been marked and that whatever has been doing this may soon overtake him.

Screenwriter of the previous three films Christopher Landon takes over directorial duties and he does a decent job at making the franchise feel fresh. Allowing the characters to take the camera outside of the home is a nice feeling, even if it does cause the audience to question why the characters would be filming certain activities. There’s even a feeling of suspense that was sorely lacking from Paranormal Activity 4. One of the more terrifying scenes is also one of the simplest: the three teens begin playing around with a game of Simon Says that seems to have taken on a mind of its own, pushing the green button to answer yes and the red button to answer no. It’s clear that something otherworldly is controlling this thing, prompting Jesse to ask if this thing has good intentions. The lack of response that follows is enough to send shivers down the spine.

But all of the subtlety and buildup is wasted on a weak third act that favors action over scares. When Jesse is kidnapped, Hector and Marisol learn that he has been taken to a house where a final ritual will be performed on him. Along the way they grab two associates, whose extensive weapons suggest that they’re criminals of some kind. These two individuals pull out a shotgun and a submachine gun, ready to blast any witches that get in their way. It’s way too over the top and it doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie. The rest of the finale plays out far too similarly to the ending of Paranormal Activity 3, but with less success. Add in a scene that somehow manages to ruin one of the scariest aspects of the original Paranormal Activity and you’ve got a terrible ending.

Like most of the Paranormal Activity films, the majority of the cast is quite good, giving naturalistic performances that allow them to feel like real people. This entry also has some good uses of humor and this can mostly be credited to the performers and their deliveries. Jorge Diaz gives the strongest performance of the bunch, turning Hector into a likeable friend, even though his character has been thinly written. Andrew Jacobs isn’t very successful at portraying the evil side of Jesse, but he does a fine job before his character goes down that road. Certain characters feel strangely forgotten, such as Jesse’s father who is in so few scenes that it makes one question why he was even written into the film in the first place.

For some reason, The Marked Ones has been labeled a spinoff film, even though it ties into the series’ overall mythology better than Paranormal Activity 4. Writer/director Christopher Landon has had his hands in this series for the last several entries and putting him in the director’s chair was a nice choice. He successfully gives the series the breath of fresh air that it desperately needed, but he’s still unable to make a particularly memorable film. The Marked Ones is a step in the right direction for the Paranormal Activity franchise; it’s not a good film, but it does prove that this franchise may still have some life in its veins.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones receives 2/4