‘The Marked Ones’ is a low profile, franchise rejuvenator test product, with a borderline schizophrenic tone compiled of literal conceits borrowed from the other machinations of similar and derivative horror plots. On one side of the pole, we have an introspective snapshot of the underdog lifestyles of the largely Latino protagonists – placed at the core of the storyline, presumably, to match the large percentage of Latino cinema goers – with the ‘dude-centric bromance’ replacing the upper middle class, Caucasian relationship dynamics. Conversely, on the other side of the pole, we have all the conventions typical of genre embellishments that place emphasis on recycling of leftover scares from the discount heap, which also jars with the very rejuvenation measures the film makers labour to achieve.
Starting with the high school graduation of the hero, a teenager called Jessie (played by an older looking Andrew Jacobs), the narrative focuses predominately on his maturation from teenage recluse to the embodiment of the very horror the story propels him into. After the death of his sinister neighbour, his earlier ‘Peeping Tom’ sessions (a camera on wire through an air vent!) encourage him to explore her apartment that is laden with sinister looking accoutrements. But the minor expedition has, predictably, unleashed a wave of horrors that range from suicide, levitating Chihuahuas, dead flat screen TVs, electronic Ouija Boards, exorcising grandmothers, etc. Or could it be that Jesse was marked from birth to experience this hell?
The impoverished economic state of its ill-fated Latino protagonists is something that the film explores and it is in fact, the finer moments of the feature. The sets, ranging from threadbare apartments and deprived corners of the city central – a sharp contrast with the sophisticated suburbia presented in the earlier instalments– mark the advent of the franchise actually embellishing something new in the typical framework. The characterisations are actually in tune with Latino culture with more emphasis on education (the film starts off with a much celebrated high school graduation) and the interconnected community. The central bromance between Jessie and Hector is underdeveloped, but not without its crudely hilarious humour (Hector draws a penis on Jessie’s face) and warm enough to register its charms with the audience that is fixated predominately on scares.
Unlike its forerunners, however, the narrative horrors of the original film was stripped of Freudian psychological tangles and instead, revelled in its simplicity. The engagement of the audience’s anticipation, rather than our psychological cues of consciousness, was the kinetics employed by the film maker, Oren Peli. His simplicity and his expert evocation of our sense of dread along with his relentless turnover of suspense and respite has not been equalled in this instalment, which is all too content to play over the recycled scares of people jumping out of the dark and even veering off into the hyperkinetic action sequences of ‘Chronicle’.
Over the process of these diminishing returns is the development of franchise logic, lore and mythology all integrated to alleviate the monotony of the interlinking plots. TMO, tries to deepen its mythological overtones to differentiate itself from its predecessors, but largely, and comparatively, doesn’t address its philosophy deep enough to warrant a standalone film.
Major plot holes encumber the film; the final coda in particular, though effective, remains resolutely confusing about its context within the narrative – although it purposefully restores continuity with the first instalment. But for more discerning viewers, it is a painful reminder that the freshness and innovation of the original has long since dimmed; And despite the film maker’s illusion that alleviating ethnic segregations in the battle of good vs evil will bring a fresh and innovative approach, their conservative scares will probably hold the franchise back. The final segment virtually rehashes the all climaxes from previous instalments.
Scary, sexy and sublime, TMO is a nightmare to behold, restoring lost lustre to the franchise, but hardly the franchise rejuvenation everyone was hoping for.