Review: The Paranormal Diaries – Clophill / Cert: 15 /Director: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates / Screenplay: Kevin Gates/ Starring: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates, Craig Stovin, Criselda Cabitac / Release Date: October 14th
The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is, extraordinarily, something entirely original in the world of horror movies. Created by the makers of the Zombie Diaries series (which in itself doesn‘t inspire a lot of confidence), Clophill takes the bare bones of the now-exhausted found footage genre and gives it a desperately needed new lease of life by crafting a movie which is part-genuine documentary, part horror fiction. The real thrill for the viewer is that Clophill is put together with such inventiveness that it blurs the line between what’s real and what’s imaginary and it’s hard to tell where the documentary ends and where the fiction starts.
Clophill is a typical, quiet English village nestling in the Bedfordshire countryside. In March 1963, a grisly black mass ritual was held at the forbidding ruins of the old St Mary’s Church just outside the village; tombs were looted and long-buried remains defiled. In the intervening years the area has become renowned for its ‘black magic’ activity and even now the locals of the village tell of mysterious dead-of-night goings on in and around the church ruins. In 2010 a team of documentary film-makers assembled at Clophill to speak to the villagers and carry out their own investigations into the various ghostly sightings and supernatural manifestations witnessed in and around the crumbling church.
The first hour or so of Clophill is real. The investigation team – they’re all real too, albeit one or two of them with genuine acting experience – travel to the village and gather up the stories of paranormal activity candidly offered by the village’s actual inhabitants. Some of those they speak to are genuinely unsettled by returning to the church ruins because of what they witnessed when they were there before. The genius of the film – and it really is a sort of genius – is the way the documentary narrative slowly turns into a very Blair Witch-style fiction in the last thirty minutes or so as the team spend their last night up amongst the ruins where they experience firsthand the hair-raising phenomena the area has become notorious for. What happens in the last half-hour is fiction – and it’s subtle, creepy stuff, nothing so explicit and extreme as to tear the audience out of the immaculately developed ’reality’ of the situation. We’re so immersed and invested in Clophill that the sights and sounds experienced by the team are as real as the genuine stories we’ve been told by the residents; we’re no longer able to tell what’s real and what’s fantasy and that, at least, is something thrilling and new in the horror genre.
Clophill is the first in a proposed series of Paranormal Diaries features, the next due out in a year or so. It’s likely that repetition of the formula will dilute its potency but Clophill at least is sure to be a big hit on the horror festival circuit this Autumn and it deserves all the kudos coming its way.
Extras: Two commentaries / Deleted scenes / Trailer