You know that a horror movie will not work if you spend a lot of time watching it and trying to figure out the exact degree of deception in its title. How does “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” relate to the other six films in this franchise? It’s not really. Yes, there is a found footage structure – although I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a movie that crosses the boundaries of disbelief more in this department – and there is, of course, a supernatural element, but this script could just as well be a “Blair Witch” sequel with a small recast. It is clearly an original story that has been labeled “PA” and that only reinforces the feeling that there is little creative depth here. “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” feels less like a chance to creatively reboot a hit franchise and more like a way to profit cheaply from the remaining interest.
In 2007, Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” became one of the biggest independent horror hits of all time. Made for almost nothing, it was effective in part because of its relatable simplicity, telling the story of a haunting through cameras set up in an otherwise mundane suburban home. Like many horror films, the franchise that spawned it spiraled out of control, filling in the background of the original couple that never seemed as effective as the pure anxieties of the first film. It ended miserably in 2015 with a sixth installment, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.” Of course, nothing ever dies in the horror business, and Paramount + today sees the launch of “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin,” a film that refers to the first film only in name.
Emily Bader plays Margot, a young woman who has recently discovered that she has been leaved by a member of an Amish community, and she has decided to return there with a friend, a sound man and a camera to make a documentary about her past. Who was her mother? Why did she leave you? Why are the people who knew her mother so afraid to talk about her?
Yes, “Next of Kin” has been a kind of “Scary Amish People” for a little too long, as Margot and her friends stare wide-eyed at the world around them. A scene where you are especially excited about seeing pigs (gasping) almost feels like a parody.
But, of course, there’s more going on in this Amish community than milk production and a complete lack of Wi-Fi. Margot learns that her mother lived in the room above the room where she is now, which causes some disturbing sounds to come from there in the middle of the night. The best scene in the first hour of the film is when Margot examines and discovers a hidden door, illuminated only by the type of night camera seen in the still image above. It is the only scene reminiscent of the creepy effectiveness of the original, in which the viewer’s eyes circle around the frame, looking for something terrible before it pops out.
“Next of Kin” is hardly a found footage movie. Listen, I’m not trying to be overly critical of an often malleable form, but one of the advantages of found footage movies is that they lock us into a POV and force us to see a limited frame of action. There are scenes in William Eubank’s film that were shot from different angles, as if Margot had brought a whole crew with her. It almost feels like the script was written in a traditional form and then packed into the “PA” found footage style because it’s so inconsistent and rarely used well. If you’re wondering who’s holding the camera, something about a found footage horror movie doesn’t work.
To be fair, the last act goes off the rails in a way that I admired, gratifyingly. Eubank can finally unleash some of the visual mayhem that made his “Underwater” unforgettable, as things get really scary for Margot in the last 20 minutes and it feels more like a “Resident Evil” movie than a “paranormal activity”. Honestly, if you ask people when it’s over, whether it’s a “RE” sequel or a “PA” sequel, they’d probably get it wrong.