Dir: Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates
Starring: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates, Criselda Cabitac, Craig Stovin and Mark Jeavons
UK Release Date – 14 October 2013 – Second Sight Films
In the March of 1963, Clophill, a ruined church in Bedfordshire was the site of a black mass performed by a group of dark witches. In 2010, a documentary filmmaking crew were sent to Clophill to document and investigate the lasting impact the event still holds over the small community. Unaware of the horrors they would soon face, the group found themselves on a terrifying path of fear leading directly to the still beating evil heart of the supernatural presence that still haunted Clophill.
Lately I appear to have developed a bit of a knee-jerk reaction to any horror film, and there appears to be a lot of them, containing the word ‘Paranormal’. I can’t imagine why exactly, therefore it was with some trepidation that I approached ‘The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill’, a new direction for ‘Zombie Diaries’ British filmmakers Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates.
Using a seemingly forgotten classic British horror staple of ‘black masses’ definitely plays to the film’s great advantage as it marks a refreshing breath of fresh air when all other ‘Paranormal’-based horror appears to be solely be focused on the plight of upper-middle class white suburban families. ‘Clophill’ itself appears to be an absolute gift of a perfect setting of a creepy abandoned church in the middle of nowhere that no studio-built set could ever properly replicate in terms of such an authentic feel.
We are introduced to the film crew, lead couple and various other party members from paranormal societies on their journey up to the site and are treated to several ‘eye witness’ accounts of Clophill’s colourful history, all before anything really ‘spooky’ happens at all, the build up being key to maintaining our interest and all set for the thrills and chills to come. As a result of this, the film almost feels like a spiritual successor to the BBC’s wonderful and controversial ‘Ghost Watch’, in that these people have the natural style of acting, playing essentially themselves and very clearly not just reading from a script or waiting when the cue is for the first jump scare.
The most surprising element of the film is that considering the large number of the group, all of them are incredibly likeable. They play the part of dedicated investigators with great aplomb, act like a big family group and although the use of night vision-cam walks a tightrope over falling into ‘Most Haunted’ territory, they are not a bunch of screaming hysterical divas and refreshingly they treat any form of supernatural communication with great enthusiasm rather than over the top shrieking.
So, remarkably, we have a found footage ‘Paranormal’ horror with actual likable characters, a fantastic set-up that’s rife for genuine scares and an overall feeling of genuine unease, all the film needs now is to be scary.
The principal problem with the ‘scares’ in this film is that in the way it is presented, it is made very clear that presumably all the characters will survive as they provide talking heads for the occurrences that happened whilst filming. This, therefore, completely removes any possible tension that could have been built up in the moments where the crew appear to be terrified about what will happen or even when one of the main characters goes ‘missing’ for a brief period of time. This problem is coupled with the fact that a large number of the film’s attempts at scaring are almost completely impossible to see. Whilst the grainy footage is in keeping with the film’s documentary aesthetic, when the camera zooms in to show us the ‘activity’, either it is completely indistinct what it is exactly we are meant to be seeing or it’s so pathetic that it hardly seems worth highlighting.
The best example of this is in the final shot of the film where the back gate to the lead couple’s house opens of its own accord. Not only is it profoundly underwhelming, but I literally had to rewind the scene several times in order to make out what it was exactly I was supposed to be ‘chilled’ by, only to find my efforts totally a waste of time.
You would think from the brilliant folklore the film deftly conjured up that it would be rife with supernatural occurrences and moments of unnerving, realistic terror. For the most part, however, the film focuses on the gravestone of one of the reported ghosts and only until the last ten or so minutes does the film remember the black mass concept and hastily rushes to stick it in there at the last minute and as a result it looks like a very poor man’s ‘Kill List’.
The terribly tacked-on ending contains some of the most befuddling exposition I have ever heard as the film verges off on yet another tangent that is a clear and cynical attempt at a sequel and stoops to the same level as other ‘Paranormal’-based films that at the start of the film it had seemed so determined to avoid.
I personally cannot see this catching on in the wide horror fanbase, gore hounds are already out due to zero spilled blood and even the most patient fans of the more refined slower-paced ghostly-goings on style of horror will have their good will tested and ultimately feel aggrieved at the incredibly poor pay off. The only people I can think it would appeal to would be those who believe that ‘Most Haunted’ is actually real and have probably, never seen a horror film in their lives. The main selling point, however, is that it was certainly still better than any instalment of the ‘Paranormal Activity’ saga!
Verdict: A rare case of a found footage-style horror with likable characters and great build up but sadly completely bereft of scares 5/10