Thursday, April 10, 2014


(US - 2014)

Imagine what the characters in found-footage horror movies could accomplish if they just had both hands free.  Late in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES, a guy is frantically running around a house, trying to find an exit, and he comes across a boarded-up window.  He half-heartedly tries to pull the board down with his left hand and it budges just a very little bit.  Here's a thought: put the camera down and use both hands.  Pitched as a Latino-targeted "cousin" to the PA franchise, THE MARKED ONES actually ties in pretty directly to the increasingly ludicrous spirit-world shenanigans.  Oren Peli's effective, out-of-nowhere 2009 original has become a distant memory as the franchise has morphed into the brainchild of DISTURBIA screenwriter Christopher Landon (son of legendary TV icon Michael), despite the guys from CATFISH getting all the attention when they were hired to directed PA3 and PA4. Landon has scripted every entry since the first sequel (except for the 2010 Japan-only spinoff PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: TOKYO NIGHT, still unreleased in the US) and gets promoted to director here.  PA3 grossed $104 million, while PA4 had a massive drop-off, bringing in only $53 million.  Still not bad considering how cheap these are to produce, but the fact that THE MARKED ONES topped out at $32 million, didn't open at #1 like its predecessors, and that other similar films are suffering from diminished grosses are major red flags that fans are experiencing some found-footage fatigue. A 70% domestic drop between two installments seems like cause for alarm, but since THE MARKED ONES only cost $5 million, it still made a big enough profit that these things will just continue until they stop breaking even. Perhaps audiences are growing tired with the way the PA films are progressing as there appears be no plot twist too ridiculous for Landon to pull out of his ass in a desperate attempt to keep this franchise gasping for one more run.  PA4 revealed that a witches' coven has been orchestrating all the paranormal mayhem, and now THE MARKED ONES introduces wormholes and time-travel.  No, really.

Set in Oxnard in 2012, the film follows Jesse (Andrew Jacobs), after he buys a video camera with his high school graduation money.  He and goofball buddy Hector (Jorge Diaz) start off by filming JACKASS-style pranks but soon get involved in a mystery when Jesse's neighbor is killed by valedictorian Oscar (Carlos Pratts), who then vanishes.  After breaking into the victim's apartment, Jesse awakens the next day with a strange mark and begins acting possessed and displaying bizarre powers (for a good chunk of its running time, this seems more like a knockoff of the overrated CHRONICLE) and is eventually abducted by some mysterious women as Hector and their friend Marisol (Gabrielle Walsh) recruit Oscar's gang-leader brother (Richard Cabral, memorable as the drug mule "The Green Hornet" in THE COUNSELOR) to track down Jesse.  Of course, other characters from the franchise make token appearances (Molly Ephraim from PA2, and series mainstays Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat), but the direction in which THE MARKED ONES steers things is a pretty clear sign that Landon is just trying to belatedly explain away the inconsistencies and contradictions that have been popping up in all of the sequels.  There's no "master plan" here:  he's making it up as he goes along. The only interesting element Landon brings to the table--think the camera on the oscilatting fan in PA3--is having Jesse communicate with the spirit via an old Simon. But time travel portals?  Enough. (R, 84 mins)

(US - 2014)

Another pre-fab cult film lovingly embraced by horror hipsters before it was even released, the long-delayed (shot in 2011) NURSE thinks it's being edgy and outrageous, but it's just tired and boring. Loaded with numbing CGI splatter, NURSE centers on Abby Russell (Paz de la Huerta), the titular psycho, who spends her off-hours picking up and slaughtering adulterous men with their "cheating cocks."  She's fixated on bright-eyed new nurse Danni (Katrina Bowden of 30 ROCK), who she quickly roofies and seduces in a series of selfies that she presumably plans to send to Danni's paramedic boyfriend Steve (Corbin Bleu of HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL).  When the bodies--including Danni's lecherous, asshole stepdad (Martin Donovan)--start piling up, Danni can't convince irate detective Rogan (Boris Kodjoe) that she's being framed and that Abby's a serial killer. With it being shot in 3D with copious amounts of digital gore and de la Huerta nudity, and no shortage of ironic stunt casting (there's Bleu, Judd Nelson as a sexually-harrassing doc, Niecy Nash as a sassy nurse, and Kathleen Turner as the head nurse), NURSE is one of those fakesploitation films that flaunts the Alexandre Aja/PIRANHA-remake mentality of assuming that it's already a cult movie, blithely and smugly unaware that such status is earned. Director/co-writer Doug Aarniokoski (HIGHLANDER: ENDGAME) tries to go for some John Waters outrageousness (why else would he trot SERIAL MOM's Turner out for one scene?) with some occasional giallo lighting and music cues that echo those of Ennio Morricone in his minimalist percussive phase, but it's not amusing, and it's not scary, and how exploitative can it be when you have a star in Bowden who obviously refused to do nudity?  Arms always strategically covering her breasts and two scenes where she's showering in her underwear?  No offense, Ms. Bowden, but you know what kind of movie you're in.  If you're not gonna play, then don't take the gig.  I'm no Corbin Bleu fan, but at least he had the sack to lay his Disney rep on the line and show his thrusting ass in a sex scene with you.

The script (co-written by David Loughery, a regular Joseph Ruben collaborator) requires its characters to be complete idiots.  Witness the scene where a bloodied Abby gets away when someone turns their back for two seconds.  The guy turns around to see she's gone but has left a trail of bloody footprints down a long hallway. How far could she get in two seconds?  And does he go after her?  Of course not. More sloppy craftsmanship: it's revealed that Abby's real name is Sarah and that the reasoning behind her actions is that, as a child, she walked in on her doctor father having sex with a nurse and killed him; she ultimately changed her name from "Sarah" and moves from hospital to hospital, changing identities and splitting town when things get out of control, and her current alias is "Abby."  OK, fine.  Then why, in the flashback to her childhood, is her mother calling her "Abby"?  The grating de la Huerta plays Abby in her typical talking-too-slow fashion with a look on her face that's perpetually stuck somewhere between "I'm confused" and "Who farted?" and her voiceover narration is obviously the work of another actress, always a sign of post-production Band-Aiding (as terrible as de la Huerta is, she's at least game for Aarniokoski's hard-R intentions, unlike Bowden).  The only real high point of NURSE is provided by Melanie Scrofano as an impossibly, annoyingly chipper HR exec.  In just a few scenes, Scrofano nails the out-of-touch idiocy of corporate higher-ups who have no idea what it's like in the trenches.  Imagine what she could've done with the Abby role instead of the dazed and dull de la Huerta.  Other than Scrofano's performance, NURSE is a complete waste of time.  (R, 84 mins)

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