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Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin Review

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin debuts on Paramount+ on Oct. 29.

As someone whose roots in horror are very tied up in the release of 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, I’ve been an ardent champion of found footage for a long time. When it’s done right, found-footage horror can be terribly imaginative and immersive while remaining budget friendly. Unfortunately, years and years of focus on the latter aspect of the subgenre has taken focus away from the former. There’s no better avatar for that transition than the Paranormal Activity franchise, which like Blair Witch, has its roots in a viral internet campaign that catapulted the austere first film to massive box office success. Cheap to make, Paramount and later Blumhouse quickly started churning out sequels that introduced new camera gimmicks and a surprisingly deep mythology, but also increasingly strained credulity around why any of these people are still filming instead of running for the hills. Rather than furthering the established continuity, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin reboots the found-footage stalwart for Paramount+, setting up new villains and demons should audiences connect with this film in the same way they did with the original. That’s putting the cart before the horse in a big way, though: Next of Kin brings nothing new to either the Paranormal Activity franchise or found-footage horror, making it a disappointment on multiple fronts.

The first question of found-footage, and the hardest to continue to answer throughout the film: who are these people and why won’t they put their damn cameras down!? Next of Kin goes with the old standby of “documentary filmmakers, one of which is the subject of the documentary.” That’s Margot (Emily Bader), a young woman looking for her birth family. She makes contact with Samuel Beiler (Henry Ayres-Brown), a relative taking a year off from his Amish community. Samuel agrees to introduce Margot to her long-lost family, so she travels deep into the woods to the Beiler farm with hired sound guy Dale (Dan Lippert) and partner Chris (Roland Buck III), a cinematographer whose pricey gear gives the Paranormal Activity franchise a major visual facelift, for better or worse.

Consumer camera tech is a crucial component of making a found-footage horror film feel authentic and immediate. While Next of Kin’s more professional cinematography is crisp and less static than previous Paranormal Activity movies, it loses the distinct visual language the locked-off surveillance-style angles gave earlier entries in a sea of samey handheld horror. Too often, Next of Kin is shot like any old found-footage horror movie, so how scary you find it will rely heavily on your experience with the franchise and with the subgenre in general… that is to say, if you’re familiar with either, it’s not very scary.

The film takes very few risks in constructing its scares, with a number of long pans around dark rooms ending with something popping out from the location second down your list of most likely places to be surprised from. There are even scares that veer straight into derivative territory, calling to mind better-executed moments from more confident films ([REC] fans may start to get deja vu at times during the third act).

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Further, Next of Kin sometimes seems to drop the found-footage conceit altogether for no clear reason, and not when it would make sense, like when the characters are being chased by a demon. On the first night, Margot’s estranged grandfather Jacob (Tom Nowicki) has the village’s kids sing a creepy song and the camera glides around the room, in for closeups of slamming fists and faces of Amish folk that we’ve been expressly told at this point hate being filmed. It’s a moment of sensory overload, but one that has no real impact because of the distracting conflict between what it can look like versus, based on the reality of the story, what it should look like. Next of Kin even flirts with slow motion at times, first introducing it as a joke but later calling back the camera’s function in egregious fashion during a death scene.

The young filmmakers Next of Kin follows aren’t the most exciting bunch.


Next of Kin director William Eubank and writer/franchise vet Christopher Landon seem to look back on the original Paranormal Activity’s ethos of “less is more” with a laugh and a shake of the head. The only way Next of Kin really improves on Paranormal Activity’s past is by moving the series’ action out of southern California (spookiest of all locations) to rural Pennsylvania. The remote Beiler farm itself is perhaps the scariest aspect of the film, full of labyrinthine passages and farm buildings capable of evoking an eerie atmosphere day or night. Chris’ drone camera is occasionally and effectively employed to highlight how isolated the characters are on the farm, but it’s perhaps the one piece of tech Eubank restrains himself in using. With drones capable of self-flying and tracking subjects these days, it feels like the franchise missed an opportunity to do something fresh with its new toys.

The young filmmakers Next of Kin follows aren’t the most exciting bunch. Margot and Chris, neither with much of a personality to begin with, each become so consumed with the business of making their documentary and gaining access to parts of the farm they’re being steered away from that the personal reasons behind the project start to lose focus. Sound guy Dale, Next of Kin’s comic relief, lightens things up considerably when he’s on screen, a gently giant goofball who’s not afraid to let the young girls of the village give him a truly hilarious Amish makeover early on that he commits to for the rest of the movie.

Next of Kin does at least shake things up a little when it comes to who’s really pulling the strings on the Beiler farm, giving cut-and-paste antagonists like Jacob at least a slightly more interesting part to play in revealing the nature of the demonic presence plaguing the characters. But Next of Kin doesn’t spend much time on the nuance of the villains’ motivations, capping things off with a predictably open ending that seems more aimed at keeping Paramount’s options open for future installments than satisfyingly wrapping up its own story.

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