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 harasse each other 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 she is a bruja (witch). 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,” a Paramount release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for “pervasive language, some violence, graphic nudity and some drug use.” Running time: 84 minutes.