Next of Kin feels untethered from the Paranormal Activity franchise, an unscary film that resists both its found footage formula and any narrative cogency.
Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin marks the seventh film in the long-running horror series, a remarkable achievement considering the 2007 original cost a whopping $10,000 and was picked up by Paramount Pictures for a straight-to-DVD release until wiser heads prevailed. 14 years and hundreds of millions of dollars in profit later, we now have the latest chapter, unceremoniously dumped onto the Paramount+ streaming service just in time for Halloween, when horror audiences are at their most undiscerning. In truth, the Paranormal Activity series ran out of gas long ago, its mythology and backstory becoming so convoluted that it would take a five bulletin boards and 300-feet of red string to make heads or tails of what was going on plot-wise at any given moment. The original worked so brilliantly because of its simplicity: a single camera mounted in the corner of a room, capturing the sinister happenings in a young couple’s potentially haunted house. Of course, in 2007, the found-footage boom had yet to reach the point of oversaturation, and talented filmmakers like Tod Williams, Henry Joost, and Ariel Schulman had some fun in the early sequels, the high-point being part three’s brilliant move of strapping a camera to an oscillating fan base and letting the tension organically develop between each creeping sweep of the room.
Next of Kin has no tolerance for these lo-fi delights, with director William Eubank trotting out such modern-day technologies as GoPros and Drones, all of which admittedly serve to make the film look slicker than past entries, but with the director failing to utilize them in any sort of creative ways that might actually, you know, produces scares. Next of Kin is technically a found footage film, but the inclusion of a non-diegetic score and the use of stingers for jump scares makes little to no sense, as if everyone involved was embarrassed to adhere to the formula established so long ago. The reality is that it’s been a good while since audiences have even had a found-footage flick that actually proved novel; what’s presented here is sub-A24 tomfoolery that looks like every scary movie made in the past six years, what with its cloistered setting that hearkens back to some long-lost era, right down to its over-reliance on candlelight and kerosene. This is especially jarring coming from Eubank, a talented filmmaker who made the strikingly beautiful and haunting Underwater just a few years ago. But that’s not to say that Next of Kin is necessarily ugly — it’s simply hackneyed to the point of parody.
That this is even labeled a Paranormal Activity film seems like a cheap stab at brand recognition, as nothing that occurs within the film is at all related to previous chapters, either narratively or aesthetically. Here, a twenty-something named Margot (Emily Bader) discovers that the birth mother who abandoned her was actually Amish, and so she travels with her boyfriend/DP Chris (Roland Buck III) and sound guy Dale (Dan Lippert) to a desolate farm in the middle of nowhere to discover the truth about her family roots, where all sorts of crazy shit starts to go down once nighttime hits. That this film includes spelunking and a horrific Gollum-looking creature casts it as more reminiscent of The Descent than a Paranormal Activity film, and the reductive nature with which the Amish culture is presented is insulting at best, offensive at worst. Even more astounding is that this script comes courtesy of Christopher Landon, he of the clever (and even surprisingly heartfelt) Happy Death Day films, even if he worked past films in the series. But the biggest problem with Next of Kin is that there is not a single moment of tension to be found, no legitimate scares crafted or feelings of unease engendered. Things perks up for a brief moment when, near film’s end, Eubank engages in an orgy of carnage that calls to mind the fractured footage of hell from Event Horizon, but by then it is far too little and far too late. Bader makes for a genuinely appealing lead, so little blame rests with her, and Eubank has proven his chops elsewhere, who only underscores how much more he’s capable of than this sludge. That the film ends with the door wide open for a sequel proves especially disheartening, as enough people will certainly catch this film on streaming to ensure another entry. Given that eventuality, all we’re left to hope is that it winds up better than Next of Kin.