Welcome to a new feature on Matt’s Horror Addiction: Versus. Versus takes one film and presents two opposing opinions in head-to-head reviews with my friend and horror movie aficionado, Frank Pittarese. We’ll explain why we loved and hated the same movie, and you can decide who’s right!
Next of Kin focuses on a young woman (Emily Bader) whose quest to discover her roots brings her to a mysterious, isolated Amish-like farm community. With the help of her boyfriend and a cameraman, the team documents the strange new world, unwittingly exposing themselves to a series of supernatural events.
This seventh installment in the Paranormal Activity series is either a reboot or a spinoff. It’s unclear which, but there’s no connection to anything that’s come before — which makes this easily disposable because it stinks. I like found footage movies, and I’ve really enjoyed most of the PA films; even the “worst” of them is perfectly viewable. This one suffers from poor storytelling (things happen that just don’t make sense), and truly terrible cinematography, even for the sub-genre. For the bulk of the film, it seems there’s a filter over the lens, added to make things darker and more shadowed — but the vast majority of this movie takes place either by candlelight or at night. That, combined with some of the shakiest camera movements I’ve seen in one of these films creates no end of visual frustration.
Director William Eubank also can’t make up his mind about whether this even IS a found footage movie. Objective camera shots — as you would see in any normal film — are inserted from start to finish. It’s distracting and pulled me right out of the action. The script feels uninspired and lazy (and ripping off REC didn’t help). I was eager for this to end even as the finale unfolded.
On the plus side, the characters are decent. Dan Lippert as Dale, the sound guy, has a few funny moments. The setting is interesting and somewhat atmospheric. But everyone is written to be inherently stupid for the sake of advancing the plot (or serving the format). Even with low expectations, I was disappointed. It felt like a cheap, direct-to-video attempt at folk horror. The biggest letdown is that Christopher Landon wrote this. He scripted Paranormal Activity 2-4, directed both Happy Death Day movies (and wrote the second), and directed and co-wrote the delightful slasher-comedy Freaky. Everyone stumbles, sometimes, I guess. It’s time to bring back Toby. Grade: D–
The Paranormal Activity series has seen its share of makeovers twice before. The fifth entry, The Marked Ones, brilliantly spun off from the franchise’s main plot by focusing the action on a group of inner-city Latinx teenagers as they discover their neighbor is part of a coven known as The Midwives. The Marked Ones both added to and respected the overall mythology of the series, creating a movie that felt fresh while giving fans what they expected from a PA film. The next entry, The Ghost Dimension, also tried to put a twist on a somewhat tiresome formula by showing audiences the demonic activity that has been plaguing the families in PA 1-4, the invisible Toby. Injecting energy into the action sequences surrounding Toby was the use of 3-D, and while that gimmick works it couldn’t hide the fact the PA films were starting to wear thin.
While Next of Kin isn’t exactly a return to form – I’m not sure I can use that phrase since it doesn’t have anything to do with the other films – it is, I think, I step in the right direction. The new characters are likable and there’s even a touch of Tucker from Insidious in Lippert’s smart alecky Dale. One of my biggest pet peeves in horror movies is unsympathetic characters, and luckily so far in the PA universe we haven’t seen any yet. While Next of Kin‘s characters aren’t as memorable as Katie (Katie Featherston), or the child versions of Katie and her sister, Kirsti, from PA 3, they carry the film smoothly.
The plot doesn’t always make perfect sense, but that doesn’t deter from the main objective of the story, which is to disorient the viewer. Just like the characters, the audience gets a sense of doom and nightmarish qualities in the creepy, atmosphere-heavy farm environment. And although the movie never achieves the intensity of the first movie in the series it does deliver some good scares, especially during the last 20 minutes. Plus, unlike the previous entries, Next of Kin does deliver a flesh and blood creature, and while it might not be what you expect it is far and away from anything the other PA have manifested. On that alone I commend Next of Kin for going a different route, even though the pathway leading to it feels somewhat similar, and welcoming. Grade: B
Stay tuned for another Versus comin’ at ya soon!
Frank Pittarese is a Brooklyn native. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.