When Paranormal Activity debuted in 2007, people’s minds were blown by the effectiveness of the subtle yet mounting horror of the found footage home video. It was new and inventive, a fresh twist on a subgenre that had been the subject of intense scrutiny and judgement since The Blair Witch Project rocked audiences in 1999. Oren Peli’s supernatural home invasion fright fest ignited a phenomenon in the genre and became a welcomed addition to the horror hall of fame. It’s not a stretch to say its successful scares made it a classic. Naturally, it waded into sequel territory shortly afterward and spawned a franchise. Up until the fifth installment, the films kept the same winning formula going: Sinister unseen demonic force at work in a house full of innocent folks. The fifth and sixth movies started taking the franchise in different places—and the seventh and latest installment, Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin, joins the group to remind us that this is no longer the franchise we remember. No, unfortunately, that’s long dead.
Next of Kin tells the story of Margot (Emily Bader), who enlists some friends and filmmaking peers to shoot a documentary about her quest to discover her lineage. Her mother disappeared when she was a baby and thus she never knew her family or her heritage. She makes contact with an Amish man (Henry Ayres-Brown), with whom she confirms her mother’s identity and connection to his parish. He offers to guide her and her crew to their farm compound and help her learn about her mother and her upbringing. But, naturally, her presence awakens something evil that is lurking among the inhabitants of the farm—and that “something evil” is more deeply connected to her than she ever thought possible.
My first gripe with this movie stems from the decision to take the action outside of a central space, which is something that made the original (and the first few sequels) so compelling. Obviously, this isn’t the first installment to do so, but after trying a larger-scale premise in two movies to lackluster results, I was hoping the franchise would return to form and try to get back in touch with its roots. The horrors of the unknown, the heavy terror of someone—something—watching you, well, that’s what made the original a success. Having something invisible subverting your place of sanctuary with no place to hide? There’s true terror in that, and it is most effective in a confined space. Next of Kin opens things up to the farm at large, and employs several different rooms—even the farm grounds outside—as part of the narrative.
My second issue—and this is kind of a big one—hinges upon that decision to really spread the action out to many different locales. In doing so, the movie’s influences became very apparent, whether there was intention there or not. There’s a scene with an uncomfortably small tunnel that leads underground that will remind you of As Above So Below. At the bottom of that tunnel, there are tons of little crosses made of sticks. Very Blair Witch. The Amish congregation definitely gives off Midsommar vibes, and there is even one point toward the end where chaos has descended on the farm…and it literally resembles the farm zombies level in Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. There were tons of these little similarities throughout the film, so much so that it began to feel like the movie was trying to scratch as many itches as possible. To be as many movies to as many people as possible. That’s not to say you can’t wear your influences on your sleeve and still succeed at your intended goal. Many films do. But with so many pre-existing setpieces coming together to support something new, it didn’t do Next of Kin any favors and ended up muddling an already boring and ineffective plot that certainly doesn’t hit the way director William Eubank and writer Christopher Landon clearly wanted it to.
With a poor use of space and obvious influences peppering the film like a last resort, I had to hope that there were other elements of the film that would keep me hooked. Things like a film’s cast, script or direction can keep us interested and giving a damn—but all of those elements fell flat in this installment. With a horror movie, we hope if all else fails, the jump scares and genre elements will save things. But there was no saving the stale and mediocre employ of cheap scares and repetitive tactics. Looking hard at this franchise—one that has been trying to reinvent the wheel for nearly 15 years—it seems as though it might finally be time to just hang the hat up. Not every horror universe can withstand sequel after sequel; not every franchise is as inventive as Saw or even Nightmare on Elm Street in its best moments. It’s OK to call it quits, even if you missed ending on a high note. There is still some good to be looked back on with the Paranormal Activity franchise—but it’s safe to say that won’t include Next of Kin.
Director: William Eubank
Writers: Christopher Landon
Stars: Emily Bader, Henry Ayres-Brown, Roland Buck III, Dan Lippert
Release Date: October 29, 2021
Lex Briscuso is an entertainment, film and culture writer who eats, sleeps, and breathes exceptional horror, sweeping dramas, and top-notch acting. She is a news desk writer at /Film and has bylines at FANGORIA, The Guardian, Shudder’s The Bite and EUPHORIA. Her horror radio show, YOUR NICHE IS DEAD, is live Mondays 5pm ET. She tweets @nikonamerica.