After an extended hiatus, the Paranormal Activity series has finally returned in the form of a Paramount Plus original film. Scripted by series mainstay Christopher Landon (Paranormal Activity 2, 3, 4, and The Marked Ones), the action shifts away from Toby, Micah, camera setups, and anxiety-inducing nights of pure fear. Instead, we follow Margot (Emily Bader) and a documentary film crew as she journeys to learn more about her shadowy pre-adoption past and birth mother. I kept waiting for the film to approach the dizzying heights of past installments; even at its worst, Paranormal Activity has been host to a bevy of intriguing concepts, carefully structured scares, and pulse-pounding finales. This has literally never been an action-heavy franchise, but the pacing here is laboriously slow. Eventually, Next of Kin gets to a final fifteen minutes that are at least entertaining. However, how can one be bothered to care when every moment preceding it is simply generic and predictable found footage pitfalls?
Set in March 2021, Margot’s search for answers leads her to Scottsdale, Arizona, where she meets her first biological relative, Sam (Henry Ayres-Brown). Armed with footage of her birth mother ditching baby Margot at the hospital, the film crew travels with Margot, Sam, and a creepy child named Eli (Colin Keane) back to the Amish community where they hope to unearth the mysteries of Margot’s long-lost mother and extended family. When they arrive, the small community does not exactly welcome them with open arms. They seem cold and distant, fearful of outsiders, content to exist in their electricity-free lodgings. Thankful for Eli’s return, the elder offers Margot and crew a place to stay “for a couple days.” From the very first night, strange occurrences plague their peaceful investigation. Margot hears loud noises up above her room, the same one previously occupied by her mother who has gone missing. The weird rituals of the townsfolk have twisted, violent edges, and a curious “house of worship” with a giant wooden beam across the entrance glimmers with possibilities. “Can you pick this lock?” Margot asks, as if a beam is not already blocking entry in the first place. As Margot pieces together the exact circumstances of her mom’s disappearance, drawing ever closer to the truth, it becomes painfully obvious that the Amish are hiding a hybrid brand of sinister secrets…
Originally conceived for a theatrical release like the other six films, Paramount decided to make a change with the release strategy and bring Next of Kin straight to streaming. This is a rather curious tactic, mainly because Paranormal Activity has always been a series fueled by audience passion and reactions to the various big scare sequences. One of my fondest theatrical experiences was my first screening of Paranormal Activity at a sold-out theater in Long Island, after it had slowly expanded larger and larger to theaters as demand and hype ballooned to monstrous proportions. The atmosphere was palpable, as the clever script forced you to latch onto every bit of detail to flesh out the ghostly presence. The final minutes of that original movie is a masterclass in suspense and horror. I watched every subsequent installment on opening night, with my personal favorite entry being 2017’s Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.
Sadly, Next of Kin carries not a single drop of the magic that made this series so great in the first place. The setup of the Amish community is rife with possibilities and eerie imagery. The eventual backstory is snooze-worthy. It has become a tradition now for characters to learn about demon origins through online research—the return of that tactic here just feels stale. As in any found footage movie, the believability is rooted in the reason the characters are using the camera in the first place. Multiple times in Next of Kin, it makes absolutely no sense for a character to be filming what is occurring onscreen. I wanted to scream at my television for them to shut off the light on the camera, which is literally only addressed when convenient for the plot. A later scene with two characters exploring a strange noise out in the barn addresses the light, but never again. To make matters worse, the ‘found footage’ logistics are constantly toying with camera angles and situations that would be impossible to capture. Music cues for scares remove any sense of dread or atmosphere. A further lack of attention to detail lies in the church: everything is in German, except for the convenient murals on the floor in plain English, so as to spell out every facet of the narrative for the audience.
The glaring issues abound from top to bottom. An earlier setup where a child is educated on the benefits of slow-motion to capture every detail reemerges to eye-rolling effect. Demon possession is par for the course in a movie that is fully content to simply repeat tropes of the past while doing nothing with them. I am not the biggest fan of sequels removed narratively from previous entries. However, if one tries this method, it had better be a convincing dive into a new concept, or at the very least, a quality execution of the subgenres they are attempting to emulate. The level of lazy in this work knows no bounds. This feels nothing like a Paranormal Activity movie—attempts to make it feel more like Midsommar, or any number of modern cult-movies, are uninspired. There is no excuse for this level of filmmaking or insulting the audience as if they have not seen a generic cult or possession movie a million times over by now. Maybe next time there will be genuine effort put into the script worthy of the Paranormal Activity brand. Until then, I will be patiently waiting for superior horror to remove the bad taste of this unrelated sequel from my mouth.
Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin brings found footage frights to the streaming world when it debuts exclusively on Paramount+ this Friday, October 29th.