18th Aug2013

‘The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates, Craig Stovin, Criselda Cabitac, Mark Jeavons | Written by Kevin Gates | Directed by Michael Bartlett, Kevin Gates

paranormal-diaries-clophill

In March 1963, a black mass was held at a ruined church in Clophill, Bedfordshire by a coven of dark witches. Tombs were looted, animals sacrificed and human bones arranged during a macabre ceremony. Further defilements continued at Clophill in the following years, with cattle in nearby fields found mutilated, evidence of necromancy discovered and perpetual sightings of paranormal activity witnessed at the isolated ruin. Fifty years on from the original incident, the Clophill legend remains etched on the psyches of the local populace. In 2010, a documentary team was assembled to investigate the legend of the Clophill witches and to try and uncover the truth behind the paranormal events.

Oh great, another found-footage flick and one created by the guys behind the Zombie Diaries series – which, to be honest, doesn‘t exactly bode well… But wait a minute, what this? A good found-footage film? From right here in the UK? One that even impressed me, a die-hard hater of the sub-genre? In a word, yes!

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is one of those movies that should be commended for managing to actually bring something new to the genre. Lensed during the pre-production of Zombie Diaries 2 after funding issues put a kybosh on the start of shooting, the film is apparently set to be the first in a new series of faux documentaries on the paranormal (though I can see the format getting tired quite quickly). Why the film works so well is that it (shock) actually breathes new life into the much-maligned and much over-used found footage format!

How?

Well for the first two-thirds of the film this is actually a genuine documentary. The investigation “team” (made up of writer and director Kevin Gates and Michael Bartlett, as well a handful of their film crew friends and a couple of actors) travel to Clophill in Bedfordshire, interviewing the locals about the history of the site and their experiences at the abandoned church – and some of the interviewees seem genuinely unsettled by what they witnessed. They even go as far as spending the night at the church with some local interest groups and former “witnesses” of paranormal events; and that’s how the film lulls viewers into a false sense of reality.

It’s this blurring of the line between what’s real and what’s fiction which allows the filmmakers to then seamlessly blend their “film” into the mix. The audience is already invested in what’s happened and what they’ve been told, so to see the fictional ghostly goings-on occur in the final third (which are subtle and creepy, not overt and over-the-top a la Paranormal Activity) doesn’t actually seem that far-fetched. I can see people being totally convinced this is real – much like the classic BBC “drama” Ghost Watch - if they caught it on TV without any prior knowledge that it’s actually a work of fiction.

Part Most Haunted and part Paranormal Activity, The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill mixes fact and fiction to great effect, leaving you to wonder just where the documentary ends and where the film starts; and as such it works much better than 90% of the found-footage dross filling up the shelves of DVD stores across the country.

The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill screens at this years Film4 Frightfest (Fri 23rd/Sat 24th) before being released on DVD by Second Sight on October 14th.

*** 3/5

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