‘Paranormal Activity’s’ Oren Peli Reflects on ‘The Marked Ones,’ Franchise’s Success
For those too scared to be aware, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones isn’t just another sequel to Oren Peli’s massively successful found-footage horror series. Rather, it’s a spinoff of sorts, one that uses the mythology of its predecessors but tells the story of a different family and their connection to a malevolent force that seems to be growing in strength – and numbers – with each successive film. But despite being deliberately different from its predecessors, the film manages to (partially) right the direction of the franchise, whose fourth installment mostly confused audiences with its storytelling.
To commemorate the recent home video release of The Marked Ones, Peli sat down with Spinoff Online for a brief conversation about the past, present and future of the series. In addition to talking about repairing any damage that might have been done by previous installments, he discussed his ongoing participation in developing the franchise, but he demurred when asked how soon audiences might see a directorial follow-up, as the last movie he directed was 2009’s Paranormal Activity.
Spinoff Online: After the success of the fourth film, what changes or adjustments did you feel needed to be made that led to creating this spinoff rather than just continuing the series mythology like before?
Oren Peli: Well, when it comes to The Marked Ones, it was already in development sort of in parallel to the fourth one, and it was always the idea with The Marked Ones that it was going to be Latino-themed with Latino characters. Also, it should have, even though it’s a Paranormal Activity cousin, in the same world, it should have a different feel, a different style, a different look, so we’re no longer trapped in a house with the cameras set up every night. We’re kind of moving around more freely in a larger world, so a lot of that was already a directive from the beginning. But the other thing that we wanted to do which may not have worked as well in Paranormal 4, which we kept dialing in the editing [to determine] how much do we want to give away, and I think we probably dialed it down too much by not advancing the story enough. And so we made sure with The Marked Ones that we tied it to the other films in the franchise, and kind of explain things but also expand the story and create a larger world for it. But that is something that is always very tricky for us, to make sure that we get right how much to give away, but at the same time not frustrate the fans by giving away too much. So it was a fine line for us to figure out where that is.
The Marked Ones clarified some of the mythology that got complicated in Paranormal 4, where fans weren’t sure who was connected to whom. How concrete is the mythology of this series going forward, and how much could it be affected by the success of upcoming installments?
Well, it’s a little bit of both – we do have some sort of background story and mythology, and with every film we figure out how much of that we want to put up front and how much we want to keep for another one. And we don’t have a long-term plan as far as, you know, we’re going to make five more or whatever. We go one by one and hopefully the fans are still there, and if they still like it, we’ll think of the next one, and we’ll try to figure out how much we want to advance the story. And we do our best to learn, and listen to the fans as far as what they like, what they don’t like, and we try to respond to that. So if there’s a situation where they’re frustrated, we go, okay, we should do something to correct. So we definitely care what the fans have to say and try to address it with every installment.
The first film has such an elegant simplicity to it in comparison to the increased scale of subsequent films. Is it possible to go back to the stillness of that film, or has the success of found footage demanded an escalation of technique in addition to storytelling?
Well, it’s a tricky balance. The first one did figure out some sort of formula that resonated with people, but the tricky thing is you don’t want to repeat the exact same thing. So you want to stay true to many of the elements that made the first one work – you want to keep it creepy and authentic and keep the found-footage format, but you don’t want to repeat the same things so it looks like you’re doing a remake. You want to take it to different places, not just as far as advancing the story, but try to figure out a different style, different look, different location, so that’s why we’re going to different locations with different characters in different time periods. So we do try to mix it up a bit because we don’t want it to become stale and boring. And again, that’s part of the thing that we struggle with every year – how do we keep it fresh without straying too far from the core elements that made it successful.
How much ownership of this series do you continue to take as audiences wait to see what you’re going to do next as a director?
Well, the first one I can definitely take full ownership of, because I wrote and produced it, and then for all of the other ones, it’s much more of a collaborative process. I’m one of several producers and the studio’s involved with other writers and directors. So I’m one of many voices, so I definitely don’t have the same kind of ownership of any of the sequels; in fact, if anyone has the most ownership of the sequels, that would be Chris [Landon], who co-wrote the second one, wrote the third and fourth one and directed [The Marked Ones]. So he’s been a very strong guiding voice for the franchise, to some degree. So yeah, I’m practically part of the team, but I’m definitely just one of many voices.
Which of these films do you think has been the most successful, or other than the first, which are you maybe most proud of?
I would say in their own way, I like them all for different reasons. I would say the one that was probably the most commercially and critically successful is the third one – that’s the ones fans respond to, and there’s a lot of scary, fun qualities. But I think they all kind of work in different ways – like, for example, this one. The Marked One has scary elements, for me it’s like the most fun one. It’s more like a fun, non-stop ride and it kind of breaks the formula of the other ones. So for me that’s very enjoyable as far as, like, repeat value – it’s a lot of fun to watch over and over again, and some of the others are fun for different reasons.
How soon will we get to see another directorial effort from you, and do you view that as your official follow-up or has shepherding this series been as satisfying an experience?
I sort of have a policy of never talking about anything before it’s time, so I try not to talk about anything in development. So when the time is right, and I have something to talk about, then I’ll tell you anything. But until then I’m keeping my mouth shut.