Friday 3 January 2014

Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (UK 2013: Dir Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates)

A surprise sellout at 2013 Frightfest, Paranormal Diaries: Clophill - which has to be the worst title of any film released last year and which if it's all right with you I'll precis to PD:C from here on in - is a significant departure from Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates's previous two films. The sellout was probably attributed to the quality of their last film, Zombie Diaries 2 (2011), which was such an improvement on their first outing The Zombie Diaries (2006) that it felt like the product of different filmmakers: possibly punters expected more of the same.

But Bartlett and Gates have chosen to take a bit of a left turn with PD:C. They have retained the 'found footage' approach but have structured their latest as a mockumentary, combining elements of The Blair Witch Project (1999) and the Most Haunted TV show (minus annoying camp psychic). Bartlett and Gates play themselves, and Clophill, an actual village in Bedfordshire, is used as the real life location for the filming. The setup has a team of ghost hunters and filmmakers exploring a ruined church in Clophill, which has a history of strange occurrences, ghostly visitations and black magic rituals, and hoping to capture some of the supernatural activity on camera.

The film builds interestingly at the start with different 'experts' telling the story of the ruined church and reported goings on. However, once on site, PD:C becomes extremely ploddy with endless footage of walking round and round the church, and using night vision shots that build up no suspense, and give no real feel of anything being properly investigated. At 88 or so minutes this film is just way too long for the subject matter. The lack of tension is also partly to do with the location - while the church itself retains an element of dilapidated spookiness, it's in a not particularly deserted part of Bedfordshire and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that the imperilled ghost hunters could hot foot it 500 yards or so to the A6 if they felt a bit lost. There's a silly sub story involving a family with a small child, which is presumably an attempt to give some variety to the documentary scenes, but just feels tacked on.

Where PD:C does differ from the TV programmes from which it takes its inspiration is in actually delivering a ghostly 'money shot' as well as some more corporeal sightings. But by then I didn't care one iota. Bartlett and Gates do know how to put a film together, but PD: C is a complete misfire - they'll have to try much harder next time.

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