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AMISH-ED OPPORTUNITY

Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin (15)

Director: William Eubank
Screenplay: Christopher Landon

Starring: Emily Bader, Roland Buck III, Dan Lippert

Review: David Stephens

Some horror brands never die; they just have a nap… and then wake up feeling a bit cranky, especially when a pandemic is having a go at the global populace. After the disappointing "finale" of the found-footage franchise in 2015, namely "Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension", it seemed that further theatrical entries of the spooky series would be no more. But with horror reboots now back in vogue (again), a new movie was announced way back in 2019. It was originally intended for a theatrical release, having been written by PA regular Christopher Landon and produced by Jason Blum and Oren Peli. Unfortunately, due to "Corananormal Activity", it found a home on Paramount Plus in the states for a Halloween screening and other scattered streaming screenings at various dates. In the UK, we've only just got it on VOD, hence this time-out-of-joint appraisal. Directed by Willian Eubank, who also made the under-appreciated "Underwater", we take a look at the latest shaky-cam hi-jinks.

 

Using that old chestnut of Hey-folks-let's-make-a-documentary-for-no-apparent-reason, we are introduced to Margot (Emily Bader) and her cameraman chum Chris (Roland Buck III) over several days in March 2021. Foster parents brought Margot up after she was (literally) dumped on the steps of a hospital entrance. After a genealogy test reveals that she is the daughter of a woman from a 200-year old Amish community, Margot meets her native contact Samuel (Henry Ayres-Brown), who agrees to escort her and Chris back to his god-fearing family who live and work at Beiler Farm in darkest Pennsylvania. Joined by soundman Dale (Dan Lippert), they are grudgingly accepted onto the farm and start (of course) filming absolutely every bloody thing that happens. It's only a matter of time before things start to stink (metaphorically and literally), and the trio finds themselves encountering some farmyard fear that could have some repercussions for those outside of the close-knit commune.

 

Okay, let's just start by establishing the fact that whilst this is, to all intents and purposes, "Paranormal Activity 7", it has got pretty much sod all to do with the rest of the franchise. Don't expect to get references to "Tobi" or the intended Witch Apocalypse or have Katie Featherston lunge at the screen at any point. This could very easily have dropped the PA from the title and been presented as a standalone found footage horror. Yes, it does have sequences that "echo" moments from some of the films, especially when one of the cast goes full Scooby-Doo and starts to tiptoe around creepy locations at 2 am. And let's not dwell on the fact that they simply must carry a camera to do so. This is the found-footage movie universe, and it makes no logical comparison to real life.

 

Unfortunately, even as a standalone FF horror, it's a bit dull and unoriginal. The Amish-Horror thing has been going on since Wes Craven's "Deadly Blessing" in 1981 (yes, they were "Hittites", but don't be pedantic). As such, it seems a little corny now and has been used a variety of times. Strict religious order hides secret, scary stuff, blah-blah. It also seems odd that the advances in technology aren't taken advantage of with this new PA entry. Chris uses a drone for two brief throwaway sequences and then seems to forget about it even when they find a hole-in-the-ground. Body-cam and Go-pro footage are also only briefly put to use. Mostly though, at least when the circumstance demands it, we're back to good ol' shaky-cam with phones or cameras in hand, pointing at things happening in the background or listening to noises just offscreen. Oddly enough, the most annoying thing comes from the numerous (seriously, easily double figures) times that one of the characters puts their handheld device on the ground so that they can perform a physical action, and they place it at EXACTLY the right angle to catch the action. What with that and the familiar subtle "rumbling" that gears up during scare scenes, we ought to be over these tired FF tropes by now.

 

Truth be told, PA: NOK is not even scary in any respect, and the narrative feels like something you've seen dozens of times before. Not to put spoilers on the table, but the nature and appearance of the physical threat is nothing new. In some ways, especially in the wake of superior recent horror hits like "Midsommer" and "Hereditary", it just feels a bit tired. It is also shameful that there was a prime opportunity to animate one of those nasty Amish faceless dolls, which was entirely ignored! Tut! Otherwise, we get similar foreboding sequences like animal cruelty (not real, obviously… don't write in!), midnight excursions, eerie bottomless pits, and demonology for dummies. Yup, it's one of those narratives where a character types one word into Google, and a whole sub-plot is revealed with two clicks of a mouse's button. It's not "bad", and the cast (especially Bader) acquit themselves well, but it just doesn't add anything new, exciting, or scary to the brand. Skipping the cinemas might have been a blessing in disguise. Be sure you know what to expect before finding this PA footage.

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There's nothing technically wrong or necessarily bad with PA: NOK. It just feels unoriginal and unscary. There are no effective jump-scares, it's full of tropes, and it is certainly not going to renew interest in the franchise to any extent. Unremarkable fare that's okay but could have been released as a standalone found footage effort, despite the studio names behind it.