Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin

1 out of 5

Directed by: William Eubank

Whereas I’d qualified The Marked Ones as being, firstly, a good found footage flick, and then secondly a really good Paranormal Activity flick, entry #7 is rather the opposite: it’s a middling FF movie, and then a very poor PA movie.

Universal got out of front of its straight-to-streaming offering to clarify that it was a reboot of sorts, and not a sequel, but still: if you’re going to trade in a franchise name, you’d think you’d include some hallmarks from / nods to that franchise. Admittedly, PA isn’t quite the lore-heavy universe as maybe some others, but maybe also it was shaping up to be, with returning writer Christopher Landon having helmed the majority of entries in which that lore was being constructed. There was, at the very least, enough to link this film to those in some way (again, if not linearly, then in some other referential fashion), and while there’s some guesswork as to how they could’ve been linked, it’s all exactly that: guesswork. If we get another one, maybe I can go back and nod approvingly at the subtle ties that are revealed, but I don’t think it will “fix” the overall quality of this movie.

Because here’s the greatest sin: it’s not found footage. And I don’t mean, like, they dispensed with the format, I mean that the structure – in which some young adults are shooting a documentary capturing Margot’s (Emily Bader) search for her mother, tracking her back to an Amish farm – is distractingly ignored throughout. The upgrade to HD cameras and the single-camera man crew bringing along different gear, like a Go Pro and a drone are all appreciated modernizations; however, this thing is edited, with single scenes shot from different angles, and not, like, static cameras that’ve been set up. There’s music. There’s perfect slo-mo to capture the action. That latter kind of has an excuse as a “glitch,” but there are too many instances where it’s used to be cool to affect that excuse, not to mention the impossible angles that are picked up in the above use of coverage. With some more flagrant examples of “why are you still filming this,” in addition to odd uses of mobile phones as cameras – somehow you can use these to look around corners while still seeing what you’re filming, and they don’t emit any light for curious Amish stalkers – the movie is a mess of suspending disbelief, way beyond the breaking point, and just to an absolutely anti-immerse extent, in which you have no idea if the filmmakers are just being indulgent, or lazy, or maybe even setting up some meta mockery of found footage, which would be kind of insulting to the audience if that had been the case. (It’s not; I’d say it’s more a mix of the first two. But before the end credits roll, there’s the lingering question if it’s all going to be a gag…)

Setting aside these stylistic / genre / franchise misses, the story itself doesn’t offer much as a hook. Director William Eubank and Landon’s script should be credited for not embellishing the Amish family for outlier creep factor, presenting them as, sure, isolated and perhaps oddly traditioned, but fairly normal folk, but at the same time, you chose that premise for your bump-in-the-night horror flick, and then you don’t deliver. Our actors are competent but join the club of generally indefinable and uninteresting protagonists, and it’s not until rather late in the flick that we finally get some notes of legitimate creepiness, but even with this, Eubank cuts away from the scene before anything significant can be built up around it. And then the next scene essentially starts the roller coaster to the end, which has some slick shots and effects (certainly correcting for some of the CG in Ghost Dimension), but is also a big part of the “not found footage” / “not really Paranormal Activity” violations mentioned above, so one step forward, several back.

As a straight-up, random choice, never-heard-of-it-before horror movie, Next of Kin is acceptable, though surely flawed. It’s format (or lack of it) is straight up puzzling, and the pacing is definitely off, but there’s worse fare out there, and there are some interesting story bits and bobs mixed in there, a well as some acceptable visuals later on. Acceptable. However, the brand-recognition tacked onto it is enough to knock it down a peg, as it represents the series at approximately 0%, with those bits and bobs not properly teased out by the flick to either feel like actual ties or rebooted lore.