A United Kingdom cable provider set out to scientifically prove the scariest films for audiences today by measuring heart rates and blood levels while screening several popular titles. The original Paranormal Activity landed in the top 10, at 9. So it is no wonder that since Paramount Pictures gave away the rights to their former horror franchise mainstay Jason Vorhees, they decided to find more activity in the paranormal with its seventh franchise film, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin.
Since the original’s release in 2007, a total of five sequels hit screens, timed just prior to the Halloween weekend and capitalizing on those pulse-peaking vibes. While the franchise has varied in terms of quality, they have all managed to stage a few set pieces that wring moments of tension and genuine jumps from its audience through its found-footage format and kickstarted the Blumhouse empire for producer Jason Blum. Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, in 2015, was touted as the “final” film in the franchise. But just as Friday the 13th found “a new beginning” after its “final chapter,” the powers that be found a way to jump-start the jump scares.
Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin opts to take things back to the basics, quite literally, setting it in within the Amish community as a young, adopted woman named Margot (Emily Bader) investigates her mother’s roots. To document the journey, she enlists her filmmaking friends, Chris (Roland Buck III) and Dale (Dan Lippert), who operate the camera and sound, respectively. But, of course, what Margot discovers about her mom and the Amish community is the cause of the horrific events of the story.
“…what Margot discovers about her mom and the Amish community is the cause of the horrific events…”
Setting the film in such a technologically devoid backdrop is an intriguing premise, and capturing the lives of the cloistered community with its archaic rituals certainly lends a particular Midsommar vibe to the proceedings. Unfortunately, it also limits director William Eubank’s ability to frame his tale without breaking the rules of found-footage, causing him to step out of the first-person POV for portions of the film. Still, the film musters its fair share of carefully constructed chills and opens the door to a larger world for the franchise to play in.
Now, horror films hinge on the stupidity of their leads. It’s a staple of the genre to wince and groan as we witness the results of their dunderheaded decisions. But Margot, Chris, and Dale make some whoppers that must be endured in order to play. So, adding the ubiquitous need for its leads to be gripping a camera to document the action in a sea of red flags only enhances the frustration of Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin.
But, if viewers are capable of looking past its flaws, the third act throttles at a fairly unrelenting pace as our leads come to realize that life on the farm isn’t all barn-raising and field-plowing. Eubank helmed last year’s Underwater, a lean, mean, low-key Alien/Abyss hybrid that was far more atmospheric and effective than it had any right to be. He manages to pull off a similar effect here, crafting scenes in which we catch a glimpse of impending danger and proceeds to mount stretches of tension before any big reveals.
By its conclusion, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin accomplishes its task of delivering a suitable level of scares in time for the witching season. While the characters are dumb, audiences will still be roped into the story, especially because of the isolated setting. Paramount made a savvy decision by releasing it on its streaming service instead of a full theatrical release, as it generates just enough haunts for home viewing and holds us over for the inevitable next installment.
"…accomplishes its task of delivering a suitable level of scares in time for the witching season."