Linda (Jacki Kerin) has just lost her mother, and as she is named as the sole beneficiary of her estate, she returns home to an isolated area of Australia to look after the mansion house she has been left. Being too big for one family, it had been converted into a retirement home, but Linda is inexperienced at this type of work and is now relying on the staff to keep the place running smoothly, although she balks at accepting yet more residents, no matter that her head attendant Connie (Gerda Nicolson) is asking her to consider it because they need the money. But Linda has other concerns...
That's because she may well have ended up in a haunted house movie, and you'd be forgiven for thinking so to right up to the point where the story exploded into violence. This was one of many horrors to emerge from Australia (and New Zealand, for that matter - it was a co-production) during the seventies and eighties that reflected an attempt by that country's filmmakers to keep up with the steady stream of product from overseas, although Next of Kin was far more thoughtful for the most part than many of its contemporaries. That was until all that carefully wrought atmosphere went flying out the window.
Before that happens, what you have is something that could just as easily have been a vintage ghost story set in Victorian times, it has that mood of the classic, shivery tales as its heroine delves into the past to find out what precisely happened at that old house she now owns, however reluctantly. Actually, it's difficult to fathom exactly how Linda feels about her new position for she is a very buttoned down personality, and we mainly find out what she is thinking from how she reacts to the strangeness building around her. What we do know is that she is investigating what may or may not have happened to her aunt, and how responsible her mother had been for her.
We also know that the residents are turning up dead, but as this is set in an old folks' home nobody is taking that much interest as that's what you would expect to happen to them. There does seem to be a menace linked to water, though this is more an artistic choice by director and co-writer Tony Williams than anything more overtly connected to the plot, so characters are drowned, the rain pours down in powerful storms, and there's a neat trick with the fountain that signals the mayhem is really about to start. As Linda uncovers more, you begin to piece together the facts as slowly as she does, and if Next of Kin was anything it was slow, deliberately paced and taking its time.
This was near to the detriment of the suspense at times, as the vague quality of the narrative made it look as if Williams was content to wallow in mystery rather than resolve anything. And frankly, you may well be feeling that way by the dramatic finale's close as you had to be paying far more attention than you might have expected to work out what was going on. This confusion was forgiven to some extent, as that final act was an excellent example of a more modern, for the day, runaround as what had been almost genteel in its chills resorted to all out slasher movie thrills. It was a crunching gear change, but the film got away with it because the mounting tension of what led up to it practically demanded a major pay off of those dimensions. For all the bafflement it risked leaving the audience suffering, Next of Kin did win a cult following of those who appreciated its better aspects, and if it verged on the curate's egg style of horror, most likely you would not regret taking a chance on it. Music by Klaus Schulze.