In 2007, Oren Peli’s “Paranormal Activity” became one of the biggest independent horror hits of all time. Made for almost nothing, it was effective in part because of its relatable simplicity, telling the story of a haunting through cameras set up in an otherwise mundane suburban home. Like a lot of horror movies, the franchise it spawned spiraled out of control, filling in background of the original couple that never seemed as effective as the pure scares of the first movie. It ended miserably in 2015 with a sixth installment, “Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension.” Of course, nothing ever dies in the horror business, and Paramount+ sees the launch of “Paranormal Activity: Next of Kin” today, a film related to the first movie in name only.
Emily Bader plays Margot, a young woman who has recently discovered that she was abandoned by a member of an Amish community, and she’s chosen to return to it with a boyfriend, sound guy, and camera to make a documentary about her past. Who was her mother? Why did she leave her? Why are the people who knew her mom so scared to talk about her? Yes, “Next of Kin” is kind of “Scary Amish People” for a bit too long as Margot and her pals stare wide-eyed at the world around them. A scene where they get particularly excited about seeing pigs (gasp) feels almost like parody.
But, of course, there’s more going on in this Amish community than dairy production and a complete lack of Wi-Fi. Margot learns that her mother lived in the room above the one she’s in now, which leads to some disconcerting sounds coming from there in the middle of the night. The best scene in the film’s first hour is when Margot investigates and discovers a hidden door, lit only by the kind of night camerawork seen in the still above. It’s the only scene that recalls the creepy effectiveness of the original, wherein the viewer’s eyes dart around the frame, looking for something terrifying before it jumps out.