Confession time: I have no real attachment to the “Paranormal Activity” franchise. I haven’t seen any of the films past the first two. I couldn’t tell you anything about the timeline or how any of the six movies connect (if they connect). Even more, the entire found-footage phenomenon ran its course for me years ago. It was cool for a movie or two, but like many I grew tired of it pretty quick.
So what on earth would entice me to watch “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin”, the seventh installment in the supernatural horror franchise? First, producer Jason Blum announced that the film would be a reboot of the series rather than a direct sequel. So no attachments needed. Next, I was intrigued by the premise and the setting, both of which actually fit well with the whole found-footage thing.
“Next of Kin” sees the PA franchise remodeling itself, using some of the series’ usual techniques but telling a new kind of story. It begins at a Denny’s in Scottsdale, Arizona where a young woman named Margot (Emily Bader) is about to meet her “first biological relative”, a young man named Samuel (Henry Ayres-Brown). He’s around Margo’s same age and recently left the Amish community where her family originated. Adopted as a baby, Margot is anxious to find out where she came from and more specifically what happened to her mother who disappeared years earlier. Videoing the occasion is her friend Chris (Roland Buck III), who is collecting footage for a “prestige documentary” she’s making about her experience.
Samuel agrees to take Margot, Chris, and their goofball (because there always has to be a goofball) sound guy Dale (Dan Lippert) to the snowy secluded Baylor Farm. Once there the crew is greeted by the community’s cautious elder Jacob (Tom Nowicki) who reluctantly allows them to stay and shoot for a couple days. The aggressively private farm folk are leery of the outsiders but slowly warm up to them.
At first Margot and her friends are drawn to the group’s simple way of life. But to absolutely no one’s surprise, she and her crew begins noticing some eerie happenings around the farm – sinister red lights glowing in the night, strange animal howls, and what’s with that creepy old church in the woods. They all lead to a messy final third that really leans into the movie’s cool blood-curdling setting. Unfortunately it also features a handful of missteps, most notably the mind-boggling decision-making from the characters that turns curiosity and investigative into glaring stupidity.
To director William Eubank’s credit, “Next of Kin” makes for a nice change of atmosphere. I say that fully realizing that franchise faithfuls may see it differently. It shares some of the same tricks as its predecessors, but the welcomed new environment is part of what made it appealing. I also liked that (thankfully) it’s not entirely found-footage. Mostly for sure, but there are a handful of welcomed breaks that also help the look of the film. And this is a nice looking film. From the warm orange glow of kerosene lamps in the interior shots to the icy harshness of the outdoors, the visuals prove to be a real strength.
There are a few other interesting touches (such as the early references to COVID-19 that forever ties the movie to our current day). But there are too many elements of film that never quite land, specifically the mystery of Margot’s mom. You get a feeling for what’s going on pretty early so it comes down to waiting for it to finally be revealed. In the meantime, the characters do one dumb thing after nothing. It’s something you find baked into too many horror movies, and it doesn’t really help Eubank and company here. “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” is streaming now on Paramount+.