Let’s enjoy the change of scenery.
After releasing what is basically the same story four times in a row, the series takes a bit of a deviation with this entry. Instead of a high-class white family in a ridiculous house, we follow a Latino family in an apartment complex.
The series has had a few opportunities to reinvigorate itself, and changing the setting was a smart idea. However, we are still stuck with the found footage. Aside from the shaky camera, poor balancing, poor lighting, and an overall nauseating experience, we also suffer from an increasingly thin justification for carrying around a camera all the time. When found footage works, it needs to be centered around the idea of the camera, and should really only be used in instances of budgetary limitations. Here, we have some relatively nice special effects, but it is cheapened through the poor framing.
Part of the fun of the first film is that we don’t see much, and the true scares are left to our imagination. With this being the fifth film that still shows very little, it seems like leaving things to our imagination has become a narrative crutch rather than a creative way of storytelling.
In this one, we follow Jesse and Hector, two friends who have just graduated high school. The Latino community seems tightly knit, and we have a slight return to small personalized details that help distinguish these characters. Unfortunately, a lot of these moments only occur in the first quarter of the film, so it is an improvement of getting to know them from the previous few, but it kind of returns to the formula.
Jesse’s under stairs neighbor is supposedly a witch, so obviously Hector and Jesse spy on her. Oddly, it is kind of fortunate that she is actually a witch, otherwise we would just be watching a film about two teenagers harassing a middle aged woman. The neighbor is murdered by a classmate who seems to be acting strangely, and then Jesse begins experiencing bizarre things, too—dun dun dun.
Jesse’s haunting is different from the others in that he is given incredible strength and energy. The idea of the demon being something that is seductive works here, and we get to see Jesse having a lot of fun at first. However, things take an obvious turn and his friends must try to find a way to save him.
This one really is a mixed bag. I think this is the closest we get to a second-wind of the series. We get a lot more action, including gang members arming up and trying to take on the cult, which is interesting. Being more cult-focused is nice this time around, and I was also happy to see that we have proactive movements against the possession, finally.
However, these positive changes don’t necessarily stick the landing. How a bunch of unarmed women overpower a guy with a submachine gun is not shown (and no shots are fired), and it all becomes a little too convenient. I suppose you could say the point is that there is no chance against the cult, but arguing this adds a level of pointlessness to the series. There is rarely a survivor, and knowing this going in makes investing in the characters difficult.
The execution simply doesn’t work fully, but this isn’t a failure of concept. Breaking away from the one family is smart, and it adds to the overall mythos in some ways, despite continuing to over-engineer the rules and story.
I imagine most folks who saw this one already watched the previous four and are now committed. (Isn’t it odd how we sometimes see viewing a film as a sort of investment?) The odd numbered films (1, 3, and 5) might be the best ones honestly. Is this a good film? No, but it isn’t a failure either. Despite its changes and creative additions, it is still mired within the PA universe, and this will be hard to escape.