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‘Paranormal 5’ brings new angles ‘The Marked Ones’ will haunt ‘Hobbit’ at box office

LOS ANGELES, Jan 4, (Agencies): It would be a wild exaggeration to suggest that “Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” breathes new life into the increasingly fumes-fueled found-footage horror subgenre, but it certainly represents a shot in the arm for this series after 2012’s poorly regarded “Paranormal Activity 4.”
Functioning more as a mythology-expanding spinoff than a proper sequel, 5 (the first directed by longtime series writer Christopher Landon) smartly switches the setting away from airy suburbs to overcrowded working-class apartments, and introduces a winning sense of humor that almost compensates for its relentless reliance on every terror trope in the book.
At this point, the conventions and limitations of the found-footage horror film are almost as well-worn and cliched as those of horror flicks at large: “Put down the camera, stupid!” has now probably been shouted at just as many screens as “Don’t go down into the basement!” (Look for “Tilt your viewfinder 20 degrees to the left!” to finally supplant “Look out behind you!” within the present decade.)


Appropriately, the hapless heroes of “The Marked Ones” never put down the camera even as they venture into dark basements, or struggle to start a stalled car, or split up in the middle of a haunted mansion — and it’s to the credit of the film’s primary cast that these bits of genre-appropriate stupidity generate more laughs than groans.
Kicking off with a high-school graduation, “The Marked Ones” centers on likably lunkheaded teenage buddies Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) and Hector (Jorge Diaz), as well as Jesse’s tag-along relative Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh). Set in gritty Oxnard, Calif., the film boasts an almost entirely Latino cast of characters — a welcome gesture toward a huge filmgoing demographic that rarely gets to see itself onscreen — while smart casting and production design help capture the flavor of the environs with only moderate deployment of cultural stereotypes.


Seemingly possessing no greater postgrad ambitions than milling around and attempting “Jackass” stunts with their omnipresent video camera, Jesse and Hector harass Jesse’s abuela (Renee Victor), smoke pot, play basketball, occasionally run afoul of some local gangsters, draw penises on one another’s faces, and generally break each other’s balls for a decent chunk of the film.
Fortunately, Jacobs and Diaz boast an easy “Beavis and Butt-head”-esque chemistry throughout, making for pleasant company as the audience waits for the inevitable horrors to befall them.
The first complication comes from Jesse’s elderly downstairs neighbor, Anna (Gloria Sandoval), whose reclusive behavior is strange enough for Hector to postulate that “maybe the bitch is a bruja.” The two attempt to spy on her by lowering a camera down through a ventilation shaft, where they witness Anna scrawling arcane symbols on the belly of a nude younger woman. Being teenage boys, they’re far too intrigued by the boobs on display to fret over the obvious occult ritual taking place, but when Anna is subsequently murdered, they decide to attempt some amateur late-night sleuthing, with predictably unpleasant results.


While the film hardly plays it coy about where this is all heading, it doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get there, and it springs a number of smart ideas along the way. Replacing the typical Ouija board with a haunted Simon game is sure to provoke howls of laughter from those in the appropriate age bracket, and the idea that a victim of demonic possession would rush to YouTube to show off his gnarly new abilities — and be promptly torn to shreds by comment section trolls — is sadly in keeping with the times. The haunted house set-pieces provide reliable doses of jolts, even if one can see the scaffolding of each scare being built from miles away, and director Landon has fun with some clever camera placement here and there. A very meta twist ending promises to either open up new narrative possibilities, or else push the franchise deep into a self-referential rabbit hole.
 


“Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones” has the inside track at the box office this weekend, and the Hispanic-angled screamfest has a good shot at ending the three-week reign of “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.”
Horror fans and moviegoers who have had their fill of awards hopefuls and holiday films will lift it over the $20 million mark for distributor Paramount, say the analysts. The studio is less bullish, suggesting Warner Bros.’ blockbuster Tolkien tale and Disney’s family hit “Frozen” could make it close, and all three could wind up in the high-teen millions. The post-holiday horror film formula has worked before. “Texas Chainsaw 3D” won 2013’s first weekend with $21 million, and Paramount’s “The Devil Inside” — which also targeted Hispanic audiences — was tops with $33.7 million in 2012.
This weekend will also be a test for Paramount’s “The Wolf of Wall Street,” Martin Scorsese’s R-rated take on the sex-and-drugs-fueled stock market boom of the late 1980s.
The black comedy starring Leonardo DiCaprio opened to $34.5 million over the five-day Christmas weekend, in line with expectations, but received a weak “C” CinemaScore from moviegoers. Whether that reflects poor word of mouth and diminished long-term prospects or division over its very edgy content should come into sharper focus over the next few days.


“Wolf” placed third on New Year’s Day and has taken in $41.5 million since Christmas, while setting off a heated discussion online and among the talking heads over the moral implications of its explicit portrayals of 1980s excess.
The R-rated “The Marked Ones” is a spin-off from producers Jason Blum and Oren Peli’s ultra-low-budget and hugely lucrative “Paranormal Activity” series, the fifth installment of which Paramount has scheduled for October.
This Blumhouse/Solana Films/Room 101 production, which like the others cost $5 million to make, has a new cast and is designed to resonate with Hispanic audiences, which have been a large part of the earlier films’ success. Steven Schneider executive produces.
Andrew Jacobs, Jorge Diaz, Richard Cabral and Crystal Santos join the cast, which includes series alums Katie Featherston and Molly Ephraim. Christopher Landon, the son of Michael Landon and a writer and producer on several of the earlier films, directs and wrote the screenplay, which sees Jesse (Jacobs) pursued by mysterious forces after being “marked.”


There aren’t any reviews, because there haven’t been screenings (though Paramount is hosting one Thursday night; check back at TheWrap for Alonso Duralde’s take). With their typically young and rabid fan base, the “Paranormal Activity” films are essentially critic-proof. It will be in roughly 2,500 theaters, considerably fewer than “Smaug” (3,928) and “The Hobbit” (3,335).
Paramount’s “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues” returns for its third weekend and should be among the leaders, vying with Sony’s “American Hustle” and Disney’s “Saving Mr Banks.”
The Will Ferrell comedy sequel has already out-stripped the total haul of the 1994 original’s $85 million with $91 million domestically, and has added another $25 million from overseas.
The two Oscar hopefuls have both performed well over the holidays. The Tom Hanks-Emma Thompson drama about the making of “Mary Poppins” has taken in $48.2 million and David O. Russell’s quirky con-man comedy has brought in $60 million since they both went wide on Dec 20.
Fox should get a better handle on the staying power of its Ben Stiller comedy “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” which has played solidly and rung up $35.5 million since opening on Christmas.

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