Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones chooses Chronicle-type effects over creeping scares

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Starring Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, and Gabrielle Walsh. Rated 14A.

The first three Paranormal Activity films were extremely engrossing and scary as hell. Their low-budget tales of demonic forces plaguing innocent couples and families in the safety and comfort of their open-design suburban homes made fine use of the idea that what you can't see—or can just barely get a glimpse of—is the most frightening thing of all.

The series' overall effectiveness slipped considerably with 2012's Paranormal Activity 4, though, and the fifth installment—which moves the setting from the burbs to a crowded California apartment complex—continues the downward slide, I'm afraid.

Not that fear has much to do with it. At the advance screening I attended last night, the shocked silence that had greeted the terrifying climax of PA2 back in 2010 was replaced by peals of laughter when Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones shuddered to its jittery, handheld end.

You expect better from a franchise built on powerful scare-you-shitless capabilities.

The movie opens with Latino teens Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz) graduating from high school, and the next half-hour kills time following their youthful shenanigans until the cranky weirdo lady in the apartment below them gets murdered.

After one too many visits to the blood-spattered crime scene and too much time playing an apparently possessed Simon Says game, Jesse develops superhuman powers. That's when the film awkwardly shifts gears from a supposed supernatural shocker to a remake of the 2012 sci-fi thriller Chronicle, with Jesse able to hang in midair and toss would-be muggers 40 feet with a flick of his wrist.

Apart from its lack of focus and creeping suspense, the biggest mark against The Marked Ones is how it goes overboard with the characters' incessant filming of every damn thing. The premise of the previous movies was that strategically placed cameras might reveal the titular phenomena, but now it's just laughable when self-appointed videographer Hector risks his life to frantically document tattooed gangbangers with shotguns blowing away marauding hellions.

Surely it's time somebody burned that 15-year-old corpse of the Blair Witch. It's really startin' to stink up the joint.

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