Horror flicks, as we all know, are never all things to all people; some of you Fellow Fans are drawn to an atmospheric flick that relentlessly builds suspense and keeps you on the edge of your seat; others prefer that glorious splatter of blood, brains, and entrails. Of course, most fright flicks run the range between these two poles, and frequently themes and subgenres are blended to form a good movie. There’s no real line of division, anyway, as most of us easily float back and forth from one extreme to the other, enjoying the fertile field that bridges the two; after all, a good horror flick is a good horror flick, right?
Well, most of the time. Sometimes, a filmmaker will come up with a movie that is narrow in its appeal, only really reaching out to a small demographic in its exploration of his or her chosen subject matter; that doesn’t necessarily make it a bad flick, but it does put some limits on its potential success.
I believe that Paranormal Diaries: Clophill, the latest film from Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates (Zombie Diaries and Zombie Diaries 2) falls into this category.
A man and his wife join with a documentary film crew to investigate possible ghostly activity at the ruins of St. Mary’s church, near the little town of Clopville. Leaving their two young daughters behind, they join the crew as they interview some locals for a little background for the story, and are fascinated by the draw the place has on thrill-seekers and teenagers. According to the story, the site was once home to bizarre pagan (perhaps Satanic) rituals, and due to some tomfoolery and desecration, the spirit of a young woman is alleged to haunt the cemetery grounds outside the ruins.
Once they reach the church itself, they are able to interview some witnesses that claim to have seen spirits roaming the area, and gather together an assembly of psychic and parapsychological researchers to aid them in their quest for the otherworldly. As the nights wear on, strange sounds and eerie messages are revealed with nightly camera patrols and Ouija board and EVP experiments, and it’s not long before some of these investigators stumble across more than they bargained for…and perhaps take it back with them; the youngest daughter of the couple seems to have a new ‘imaginary’ friend, who she says is none too friendly…
Right out of the gate, I’ll say that I was impressed with how this film was shot, using the precept of being an actual documentary and thus being free of most of the horrible shaky cam that we’ve come to expect. Also, each performer (most were not actors, but paranormal researchers/witnesses playing themselves) was very convincing and genuine in their roles. The information we’re given about the old, ruined church of St. Mary’s (the site in the town of Clopville that is the actual focus) is actually quite interesting, and more than a little creepy; I’d actually never heard about it before this film. Apparently back in the sixties there was some witchcraft/devil worship that went on in the old ruin, and some graves were desecrated.
Coupled with some suggested scandalous behavior of the church vicar back in the day, these events have prompted a good many legends and ghost stories to crop up around the old place over the years. This well-presented background set up an interesting tale, and in fact this film is actually a pretty damned decent documentary for the first half-hour or so. Soon, however, it falls into typical basic-cable television “ghost-hunter” territory, with very little happening other than the occasional crack of a branch or shift of the wind, always with the nightvision-lit character in frame turning with a surprised look and saying “what the fuck was that?”. You actually only see a couple of things, and these are so vague and expected that they border on predictable. Near the end, the film tries to pick up steam, but I was already too weary from the ride to do much more than notice a resemblance to another recent found footage film.
An interesting blend of fact and fiction, it nonetheless delivers very few scares; there’s a lot of tension building, but it’s quite slow; I feel that it was the intent of Bartlett and Gates to bring us very gradually from pure documentary to horror film…but for me, it was too little, too late. By the time we got to the (admittedly kinda spooky) last few minutes of the film, I’d already grown kinda numb to the concept. I fear that this film, despite its good points, is only going to click with a select few; it doesn’t bring anything new to the sub genre, and it’s heavy documentary style and very slow build towards the climax will be an immediate turnoff to a lot of people. For all but a very specialized kind of horror fan, there’s just not much here to hold your attention.
If you happen to be a resident of that part of England, or for whatever reason have a foreknowledge of the history of St. Mary’s church and the town of Clophill, then there’s almost certainly value to be found in this film; if you’re a hardcore ghost-hunter kind o’ fan, then you too just might find some merit here…but for the typical horror fan (like myself), I tend to feel you’ll be disappointed.
Although I felt the concept was interesting, the performances believeable, and the production value more than expected, sadly this one just didn’t do it for me; it seemed a lot of set up, but almost no pay-off. Purely my opinion, of course, but if you didn’t want it, you’d have stopped reading a long time ago.
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