Picasso famously said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” What Director William Eubank and Screenwriter Christopher Landon have done with PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN is steal elements from the best horror films of recent years, and combine them into a stylish folk-horror tale that is greater than the sum of its parts. There is no fat to trim on this story. From the opening frame, there is not a second wasted on anything that doesn’t move the story forward. From insightful character beats, clever set-ups, building mystery, and tension, or establishing the dark lore of this strange community, I never once felt like anything was superfluous.
NEXT OF KIN follows Margot (Emily Bader), a girl who was abandoned by her mother as an infant as she tries to reconnect with the family and community she never had the chance to know. Through an improbable chance encounter, she is able to find out that her mother was part of a reclusive Amish community in rural Pennsylvania. Her videographer friend Chris (Roland Buck III) convinces her to make a documentary about this quest for discovery, and the community reluctantly agrees to allow this unprecedented access. All in the interest of reconnecting with their prodigal daughter. What is initially a sweet tale full of family gatherings, laughing children, and pigs with incredibly cute butts, evolves into a truly tense occult mystery involving deception, betrayal, and demonic possession. All the things we come to expect from the Paranormal Activity franchise.
Christopher Landon — back to his Paranormal roots after the wildly successful Freaky and the way-too-fun Happy Death Day 2U — crafted a tale with just enough of the classic series tropes to keep the long-time fans happy. At its core, it is still a story about the younger generation of a family having to pay for the sins of their ancestors. But by taking the setting off the grid, greatly expanding the scope to an entire community, and utilizing the full arsenal of modern camera technology, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN manages to make this formula feel entirely fresh.
This is even more impressive due to what I alluded to at the beginning. So many elements of this film seem cribbed from horror classics, both old and new. You cannot watch this film and not see the influences of everything from Midsommar to Texas Chain Saw Massacre. But because of the expert direction of William Eubank, none of this feels forced, and no reference lingers long enough to let the audience feel like they are being played. Just as he did in Underwater, Eubank manages to drive the story forward with a relentless momentum that is unmatched by anyone else in the industry right now. Even the lighter moments designed to allow the audience to let out a laugh and relieve some pressure are quickly followed up by more mystery and more tension. And the entire third act made me feel like the proverbial frog being slowly boiled to death on the stove. By the time I even realized how tense my body was at the gradually increasing dread, my legs were cramping and my hand was clutching my chest over my heart.
It may seem hyperbolic, given the iconic nature of the original film, but I do not hesitate to crown NEXT OF KIN as the best film in the Paranormal Activity franchise. This is found footage filmmaking at its absolute pinnacle.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: NEXT OF KIN is now available to stream exclusively for Paramount+ subscribers in the U.S. . In addition to its availability on Paramount+ in the U.S., the film will also be available to stream on Paramount+ in the Nordics and Australia.