2 out of 5
Directed by: Tony Williams
Shot in a dreamy, rough fashion, haunted house-flick Next of Kin lands on some appealingly off-kilter imagery and approaches, finding weird angles and non-diegetic jump scares to tell its story of Linda (Jacki Kerin) inheriting the nursing home her recently-passed mother ran, discovering the same odd sights and sounds within that plagued her mother as well. Unfortunately, “rough” here encompasses a style that’s occasionally effective in its DIY vibe, but then also occasionally amaetuerish feeling as well, constantly breaking any building creepiness by splitting the difference between controlled slowburn and sloppily crafted / edited setups. Characters sometimes are smart and attentive, and then just as often B-movie dunderheads; the strange affectations of the haunted house – bizarre patrons, running faucets – are sometimes subtle, and then sometimes smack Linda in the face, eliciting bipolar responses of freaking out and shrugging it off. The same question of purpose / accident is found in other touches that are then plus / minus as well – characters and the setting are hardly defined, which, on the one hand, adds to the dreamlike feeling of the setup (informing an undernote of ominousness throughout), but then also makes those characters’ interactions as the film proceeds weightless; the aforementioned non jump-scares are really interesting – typical things like cats leaping into frame that cause us viewers to jump are completely ignored by the actors – but it’s unclear if the aim there is for purposeful detachment, or because director Tony Williams didn’t really understand the “rules” of a horror / thriller.
As Linda learns more about her inherited house, and comes to suspect some foul play by various folk – who may be purposefully trying to freak her out – the movie wanders about mostly successfully, until its “reveal” hits with an incredibly dull “uh, okay?” thud, forcefully ratcheted up with an out-of-place bit of cat and mouse thereafter.
It’s always nice seeing eventual Wolf Creek-er John Jarratt being all handsome and Australian in his early roles, here playing Linda’s kinda sorta boyfriend Barney, but otherwise, Next of Kin’s wavering interest lies in its off beats, rather than anything it seems to be doing on purpose.