The most interesting thing about the new found-footage creeper Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is that it’s centered around an actual allegedly haunted site – the ruins of the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Clophill, England, a place with a sordid history of grave desecration and black masses. The second most interesting thing is that I didn’t want to tear my eyeballs out entirely while watching the film, only during the last half. Directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates’ follow-up to their similarly titled The Zombie Diaries parts I and II is a wholly underwhelming thriller that managed to keep my attention by structuring itself like a cable ghost-hunting show. It’s an approach that hasn’t utterly worn itself out yet.
That being said, Paranormal Diaries suffers from the same flaws those ghost hunting shows have – namely, long periods where nothing happens and then sensationalizing these blank moments with gasps, replays, and shrill music. I was genuinely enjoying the first 20 minutes or so, when a group of documentary filmmakers are discussing their interest in Clophill. There’s a bunch of talking head interviews with folklorists, historians, occultists, etc. that add a lot of flavor to the information coming at us. The film works really well here.
The talking heads are non-actors and plenty of real stock footage is used to help ground the story in reality. It’s difficult to tell between the actors and real people, which is a pleasant change from the typical shit acting in found footage. The church’s backstory is pretty damn creepy too (there’s even creepier parts of it if you do some quick internet research) and hearing real people and locals talk about it adds a great deal of weight to the proceedings. One guy even wears a pentagram necklace so you know he’s not fucking around.
Where it starts to go downhill is when the gang arrives at Clophill. Enter the night vision cameras, the handheld shaky-cam, and a whole lotta nothing. They attempt to use EVP meters and Ouija boards to contact the spirits of Clophill, but they get zilch. Like I mentioned, nothing happens for long periods of time, so it’s a slow-burn. They try to spice things up a bit like they do in the ghost hunting shows by replaying footage in slow motion and being like “Did you see that?” (no, I didn’t see a goddamn thing). Other times they find some animal bones or something that may resemble a human tooth (it doesn’t) and everyone loses their cool over it.
The investigation remains tedious until the climax, where the film simply fizzles out. It’s like Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates had a cool premise to wrap a horror film in, with the actual Clophill ruins and all, but going the found footage route didn’t seem to inspire any creativity in them. There’s nothing new here. After an interesting set-up and the historically rich backstory presented in the beginning, the rest of the film is a massive disappointment.
Paranormal Diaries: Clophill is now available on DVD from Image Entertainment.