It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
The novelty of "found footage" wore off almost immediately upon arrival, and yet the "style" persists, despite the fact (or maybe because of the fact) that it's tired and lazy. "Found footage" requires too much forgiveness on the part of the audience. If you find yourself thinking, as I did, during "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones", the fifth installment in the wildly popular series of films, "Why wouldn't he turn off the spotlight on his camera so as not to be detected by the hungry coven of witches looking to devour him?" then you're dead in the water. And so is the film. Thankfully, the entertaining chemistry between the two young leads in "Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones" (Andrew Jacobs and Jorge Diaz), almost saves it.
Evil spirits are up to their old tricks in "The Marked Ones", and this time the action takes place in Oxnard, California, in a working-class Latino neighborhood, a welcome change in style and feel from the other more generic suburban installments. Jesse (Jacobs) and Hector (Diaz) live in a crowded apartment complex, with multigenerational family members crowded into small rooms. Both have just graduated from high school and seem to have no plans, no jobs, no goals. The only thing they have any interest in is fooling around with their new video camera. At first, they just film each other doing dumb stunts involving laundry baskets and staircases. Hector draws a penis on Jesse's face while he sleeps. Hilarity ensues. They do shots of tequila with Jesse's feisty grandmother (Renee Victor). The only reason this banal footage has any entertainment value is because of the two actors. Their energy together feels unselfconscious; it doesn't feel like acting. They seem like real boys, real friends.
Soon, the boys become curious about Anna (Gloria Sandoval), a downstairs neighbor. Weird moaning sounds and bumps come up through the grate at night. The boys attach the camera to a wire, lower it through the grate, and, to their amazement, observe frumpy Anna, in the nude, painting a red circle on the stomach of a gorgeous naked woman. Again, the "found footage" trope requires that you turn off your brain that pesters you with questions such as, "That apartment down there has four rooms. Why would those two naked ladies choose to stand in the exact spot where the camera can pick up the action through the grate?" The fact that what the boys observe is disturbingly ritualistic is erased by the reality of the real live boobs on display down there.
The jokes stop when Anna turns up dead.