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‘Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin’ Review: Amish Country Gets Creepy in Breezy Faux Documentary

An adoptee goes looking for answers about her past in a breezy and satisfying horror dressed up as a documentary.

"Paranormal Activity 7: Next of Kin"

“Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin”

Paramount

Editor’s note: The following review contains spoilers for “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin.” 

Is it problematic to admit that an overnight stay in an Amish country farmhouse seems ripe for a horror movie setting? Without revealing too much about the plot of “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” off the bat, the seventh and latest chapter in the mega-hit horror franchise manages to alleviate that particular stickiness with a last-minute twist. Before the whole devil-worshipping-cult stuff happens, the movie is fairly respectful of Amish cultural practices, even if it uses them as ornamentation.

Keeping in line with previous “Paranormal Activity” entries, “Next of Kin” stays true to its found footage roots with a funny but workable indie documentary premise. The result is a breezy but chilling romp through a haunted rural farmhouse, seen through extremely high-resolution handheld camera work. Like most studio horror movies these days, it looks a lot better than it should, and slaps a bit less.

“Next of Kin” centers on a young woman named Margot (Emily Bader), an adoptee who recently connected with her biological family via genetic testing (shoutout to 23andMe). Though she doesn’t know anything about her biological mother, she matches with a young man named Sam (Henry Ayres-Brown), who did the test while on his Rumspringa, an Amish rite of passage. “Whoa, so you’re Amish?” a friend asks Margot, who replies: “That’s not how it works.”

The whole movie is shot as if by Margot’s friend Chris (Roland Buck III), who is determined to make a “prestige documentary” about Margot’s exploration of her roots. The effect is bolstered by many shots of someone putting down and picking up the camera before focusing on themselves, as well as enough offhand comments about camera and sound equipment to provoke the warranted embarrassment of many a film nerd. The happiest outcome of this somewhat staid plot device is the addition of eccentric sound guy Dale (Dan Lippert), a lumbering dolt who brings a much-needed jolt of comedy to the otherwise sober proceedings.

"Paranormal Activity: Next of KIn"

“Paranormal Activity: Next of KIn”

Paramount/Screenshot

When the motley foursome finally gain entry into the drafty colonial farmhouse, after initially being turned away, they are lured in by the family dinners and ethereal tunes of a children’s choir. “When is the last time you went to dinner and didn’t look at your phone?” Margot asks, seemingly drawn in by this simpler way of life. A simple tour of the barn teases potential future perils: One wrong step and Margot nearly falls through a bale drop into a spiky mechanical pitchfork. When passing local Amish outside of the family, Sam warns them not to say hello, as they are private people.

The elder Jacob (Tom Nowicki) cuts a creepy enough jib with his white beard and long stringy hair. The movie mercifully foregoes any salacious, creepy old-man vibes, leaving the mind to fill in what other kinds of secrets Jacob might be hiding. When exploring the attic above her room, which used to belong to her mother, Margot comes across letters describing a cult. In classic horror fashion, she finds a tiny hidden door and sees a face staring back at her in the window.

“Next of Kin” was directed by William Eubank (“The Signal”) and written by “Happy Death Day” director Christopher Landon, who wrote and/or directed four of the previous “Paranormal Activity” movies. With Jason Blum and franchise creator Oren Peli as executive producers, the movie comes from a tried and true team of contemporary studio horror hit-makers, and feels like it. It doesn’t break the rules, but it knows how to deliver the kinds of jump scares and intriguing premises that audiences have come to expect from the franchise, and Blumhouse in general.

Like another of this year’s commercial horror titles, “Malignant,” “Next of Kin” trades dangerously in the myth-building possibilities surrounding adoption. The mysteries of where we come from may never fail to capture filmmakers’ imaginations, though here it feels like a missed opportunity. Despite its title and premise, “Next of Kin” fails to plumb much from its bloodline-related intrigue, tying the thread of Margot’s ancestry up with a crescendo that feels more like a footnote. Go big or go home, if you know where home is.

Grade: B-

Blumhouse and Paramount will release “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” on Paramount+ on October 29. 

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