Nobody making scads of money needs to listen to critics. Who cares if Adam Sandler films are stupid as long as kids keep shelling out for popcorn and tickets? Horror films, which have always been exploitative and inventive, are no exception. How many limbs should Saw saw? How Insidious does it get before it’s just tedious? “All the way to the bank” is a franchise-maker’s smug reply, and this franchise began as a gold mine. The first Paranormal Activity cost $15,000 to make, according to Box Office Mojo, and earned $100 million. Of course, there will be sequels, though tight producers who spend no money on stars, sets, or special effects are only making 10 times their investment on more recent films. This one is a spin-off (Paranormal Activity 5 is due later this year), and though it promised a refreshingly diverse approach to its rehashing of the Blair Witch found-footage horror shtick, it ultimately goes to familiar ground for a dumb conclusion. The director’s sheer laziness has turned the experience of waiting for novel thrills into the more mundane shock of having our collective pocket picked.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones actually offers a brilliant premise. Set gloriously in the nearby city of Oxnard in a middle-class Latino apartment house, the film offers a wide-open opportunity to employ Mexican-American folkways, superstitions, and esoterica to create a story that plays for a largely ignored Hispanic audience, as well as to curious gringos. And for the first half hour, that vein is pulsing with possibilities. The apartment house below belongs to a bruja. Strange noises draw some recent high school grads with a camera to explore its dark secrets. Instead of pursuing this diverse thread, though, the film starts stealing from a dozen other movies and then ends in the same damn place the all other Paranormal movies do — literally.
Maybe people making tons of money don’t have to listen to critics, but they ought to reward their faithful. Director Christopher Landon includes a number of novelties and twists, like a Simon toy that channels demons. But it turns out he only had a hook and didn’t respect his audience enough to see it through to good movie pleasure. As my scary-moviegoing friend Glenn Leopold put it, “We’re the marked ones, the audience.” How long shamelessly lazy filmmakers can rip off their fans should not be a smug point of pride.