You’ve probably seen at least one of the Paranormal Activity movies. All shot using the found-footage style, it’s at this point a familiar story. A young, white family in an affluent suburb picks up a camera and starts filming the weird, spooky stuff that starts happening to them. They capture demonic noises, swaying chandeliers, and unexplained bite marks. The newest film in the multimillion dollar franchise is a little bit different. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones features an all-Latino cast and is set in a working class neighborhood (emphasis on hood) in Oxnard, California.
A few months back, when we heard that Paramount, a big Hollywood studio, was making a “Latino-themed” horror flick we were skeptical, naturally. An industry that has historically portrayed Latinos as maids, gardeners, and gangsters who barely speak English is not to be trusted. It turns out, The Marked Ones is a pleasant surprise. It realistically mixes the supernatural elements of the original films with a So-Cal brand of Catholic-tinged Mexican-American mysticism.
A found-footage movie lives and dies by its authenticity; it has to look real. The audience must believe that a regular person picked up a camera and started shooting at their house, not a fake movie set. Writer-director Christopher Landon did his research, visiting botanicas in Los Angeles, and hiring language and Latino cultural consultants to ensure he got it right. The results are spot on.
The furniture in the apartment where teenaged Jesse (Andrew Jacobs) lives with his abuelita is perfectly mismatched. The cross that hangs on the wall of the living room and the large picture of la Virgen cement that you are observing a real Latino household. Jorge Diaz, who plays Jesse’s best friend Hector, agrees. He joked, “It looks just like my tia’s apartment here in L.A. She has the same set up with the plastic on the table.”
Jesse and Hector are typical teenagers, spending their lazy summer days filming their silly hijinx with the camera Jesse got as a high school graduation gift. They make videos of Hector’s little dog Chavo, take tequila shots with abuela, and light fireworks in the parking lot. They joke about boners, R. Kelly, and their scary neighbor Ana who people around the hood call a bruja.
Much of the banter amongst the two friends is a result of improvising on the set. Diaz explains, “The director, Chris, would set up the scene for us. He would explain what needed to happen in the scene. He might tell us, “Make sure to say this.” But in the end how we put that together as actors was really up to us. We were totally free, he was really open to creativity.” And if something seemed off to one of the actors, they would say so. “We were really vocal if something didn’t feel real.”
Part of the authenticity comes from the camera work. Hector, the ever faithful sidekick, is always by Jessie’s side filming the creepy occurrences they encounter. When Hector is busting up about something, the camera shakes. When Hector is scared, we hear his grunts and moans. It turns out Diaz, in his role as Hector, shot most of the footage himself. He explains the choice, “They liked my energy behind the camera and said I had very natural movements.” He worked very closely with the Director of Photography who would explain the different camera angles to shoot from and how to end the scene so that it could be edited easily afterwards.
After several people end up dead including the bruja from downstairs and Jesse starts mysteriously developing freaky super powers the movie moves from light comedy to a fright fest. When the mierda hits the proverbial fan, Jesse’s abuela is convinced that her grandson is possessed by a demonic spirit. Not speaking much English, she heads to her local botanica for advice. She walks past religious candles and altars, in the backroom she meets with a curandero who instructs her on how to carry out a limpia. Returning home with eggs in hand, she rubs them over Jesse’s listless body. What happens next is terrifying but I won’t ruin it for you.
The creators of The Marked Ones set out to make a Latino-themed horror flick with wide appeal and, they succeeded. It’s culturally-specific without pandering, spooky, thrilling, and hilarious. Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones gets one big Latino thumbs up from Remezcla. Go see this movie!