I missed THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL when it was premiered at FrightFest last week, but those kind folks at Second Sight, who will be releasing this film on DVD in October, sent me a disc so I could see what I was missing. Unfortunately, despite the film having had quite a number of positive reviews on other sites, I have to admit that my overall impression from watching it was that I hadn't really missed very much. However, just because I didn’t get on with it doesn’t mean it might not be your cup of tea.
To give it its due, PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL does a couple of things really well. First, it does an exceedingly good job of coming across as one of those documentaries featuring paranormal investigators that you stumble across on satellite television channels at ridiculously early hours of the morning. The location under investigation here is the Bedfordshire village of Clophill, or rather the splendidly spooky ruined church that sits on top of a hill just outside it. Allegedly the site of various ‘satanic activities’ since 1963, our team of bright young things goes in armed with the usual video cameras and microphones to see if they themselves can pick up any weird supernatural goings-on.
Where the film differs from others is that I understand that, for the first hour or so, pretty much everyone who is featured is real - real alleged witnesses to events, real paranormal investigators, and real villagers being interviewed. I was able to glean this from sources other than the movie itself as it doesn't make any of this terribly clear. As a result, if you want a really good movie version of TV’s MOST HAUNTED or something like that, then for the first hour of this you’ll be in heaven, while everyone else will be screaming at the screen for something to actually happen. There’s a scary moment of note at about 69 minutes in, at which point the movie does something that, if all the above is true, isn’t exactly fair to its non-fictional participants, because having been essentially a documentary up to this point, the film throws in a couple of supernatural special effects and a late 1970s BritHorror style nudie satanic ritual for good measure, presumably to make this something more than just a documentary, and, if I was feeling unkind, I might also suggest it was to up the certificate from a PG at most to a 15.
After this little bit of eventfulness, the movie peters out, and left me wondering if I'd missed anything significant, but I really don’t think I did. About half an hour in I was thinking the film was either being tremendously subtle, or nothing was actually happening at all, and as things went on I became more convinced that sadly it was the latter. This was all a bit of a shame, because PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL is actually very well made. Rather than do the fuzzy video shakey cam thing one usually gets in found footage-type pictures, this feels very professionally produced. The photography is clean, crisp and, at points, really quite beautiful. I suspect it would be difficult not to get good shots of the scary church, but even so directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates manage some very nice setups that left me hungry for more interesting (and certainly more disturbing) things to happen. Another reviewer has already beaten me to writing that the film would have been better off being narrated by Alan Partridge, but I have to admit that thought occurred to me about halfway through as well.
So there you are. If you like the idea of a movie that’s 80% documentary with what looks like footage of Norman J Warren’s SATAN’S SLAVE spliced in towards the end, then PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL, is the film for you. Second Sight's very attractively packaged DVD includes two commentaries - one by the writer and director and another with the cast and crew. Deleted scenes are included as 'Tales From the Graveyard - The Clophill Archives'.
Second Sight will be releasing THE PARANORMAL DIARIES: CLOPHILL on 14th October 2013