Paranormal Activity: Next Of Kin Review: The Franchise Gets A Facelift With This Fright-Free Tale

"Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin" asks a question, and that question is, "Do you think Amish people are scary?" If so, get ready for goosebumps, because there's wall-to-wall spooky Amish stuff here, baby. This facelift to the seemingly endless found-footage series tries some new things — for instance, it completely abandons the demon "Toby" that was so prevalent in the previous entries — and for that, I commend it. This entry also has some great behind-the-scenes talent, with "Underwater" director William Eubank at the helm, and Christopher Landon, whose credits include "Happy Death Day," "Freaky," and several previous "Paranormal Activity" movies, handling the screenplay. That sort of pedigree raised my expectations for "Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin," but I suppose I should've lowered those expectations a smidge.

What the new "Paranormal Activity" does have going for it is an upgrade in regards to style. The previous films were pretty much presented as point-and-shoot amateur documentaries shot on the fly. This new take has ultra-crisp digital cinematography (which isn't such a great thing) and several different flourishes, including slow-motion. Landon's script is smart enough to explain why a "Paranormal Activity" movie would suddenly be employing slo-mo, and that explanations mostly make sense. But there's something considerably odd about a so-called "found footage" flick looking this slick. Perhaps this is just a mental block on my part, but I'm of the opinion that these sorts of films should intentionally look at least a little grainy; a little unprofessional. "Next of Kin" tries to get around this by stating these aren't just random folks using a camera they just bought; this is a professional-ish film crew shooting a documentary. But that explanation starts to fall by the wayside when characters begin running around, creating a nauseating shaky-cam effect that I thought we had all moved beyond at this point. 

Sorry, Weird Al: This Is No Amish Paradise!

Margot (Emily Bader) wants to know where she came from. When she was just a baby, someone — possibly her mother — abandoned her in a public place and vanished. Margot was adopted, but she's grown up wanting to know who her mother was, and why she gave her up all those years ago. As luck — or is it fate (cue the ominous music) — would have it, Margot happens to meet a distant cousin, Samuel, (Henry Ayres-Brown), who found out he was related to Margot through one of those mail-in DNA tests. Samuel is a member of the Amish community currently in the midst of Rumspringa, the rite of passage where younger Amish people leave their community for a period of time to see what life is like on the outside. 

Teaming with cameraman Chris (Roland Buck III) and comic relief sound guy Dale (Dan Lippert, who kind of steals the movie with his wisecracking performance), Margot travels with Samuel back to his community to make a movie about the entire experience and to hopefully learn more about her mother in the process. Once there, Margot meets her blood family, a group of Amish folks who are incredibly hostile at first before mysteriously changing their attitude and accepting Margot and her film crew. All of this unfolds in the dead of winter, and the snowy farmlands lend a chill to the proceedings. Indeed, one of the few things "Next of Kin" has going for it is a real sense of place — the community truly feels cut off from the rest of the world, and when Margot stumbles upon a secluded church in the middle of the woods, its very appearance gives off threatening vibes. "Why would they build a church in the middle of the woods?" Chris asks. Good question, Chris! 

Once Margot and her crew have settled into the big spooky house her extended family inhabits, the typical "Paranormal Activity" shenanigans begin. There are bumps in the night. Lots and lots of bumps in the night. And there are strange discoveries — Margot is told a room that her mother used to occupy is now used for storage, but when she snoops around she finds that's not the case at all. In short, things aren't adding up, and Margot is getting mighty suspicious. 

That's It?

When the original "Paranormal Activity" arrived in 2007, it created quite a stir thanks to some very clever marketing. The teasers and trailers released for the film didn't emphasize footage from the movie itself; instead, it primarily consisted of night vision camera shots of audiences watching test screenings. This footage primarily consisted of folks, bathed in eerie green light, jumping out of their seats in terror at what they were witnessing up on the screen. It wasn't quite as clever as the marketing for the franchise's found-footage forefather "The Blair Witch Project," but it did the trick. In retrospect, it's somewhat amazing that the first "Paranormal Activity" became such a powerhouse and spawned an entire franchise. Because if you go back and watch it now, you'll notice that not a whole lot happens in the film. It mostly consists of a married couple turning to each other and asking, "Did you hear that?!" 

Perhaps in an attempt to get back to basics, "Next of Kin" really embraces the whole "not a whole lot happens" idea, because honestly, not a whole lot happens here! I'm not saying this movie needed to be wall-to-wall scares, but there's a shockingly small amount of horror on display here. It's almost as if they forgot the whole "Activity" part of the title. Instead, a huge chunk of the runtime is devoted to pointing out how weird and mysterious the Amish way of life is to outsiders. Scary!

The film attempts to compensate for its lack of real frights with an abundance of incredibly cheap jump-scares accompanied by blasting music notes, and for the love of gosh, can we please go back to the era of music-free found footage movies? Adding a musical score to this sub-genre almost never works, and it definitely doesn't work here. 

The original "Paranormal Activity" had a certain amount of believability going for it. We all knew it wasn't real, but it was presented in a way that felt real, right down to how the characters reacted to it all. The same can't be said for "Next of Kin," which never once feels even slightly grounded in any semblance of reality. And while the action cranks up in the final half-hour, it's shot in such an incoherent manner that it renders the entire endeavor rather impotent. And by the time the film's confusing finale arrives, we're left with only one real question: "That's it?" 

/Film Rating: 5 out of 10