LOS ANGELES — 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, this fifth installment (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.