The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill (2013)

Combining elements of Most Haunted, Blair Witch Project and The Wicker Man in a documentary melting pot may not sound like the most entertaining concept for a horror film, but then Clophill is not your average horror film. This feature from Off World Films and Bleeding Edge Films is a refreshingly understated and enjoyable take on a sub genre that has been recently defined by decidedly third rate fare.

Set in the actual village of Clophill in the UK, a place that has an actual history of haunting and occult activity, and shot in a documentary style the film follows a group of film makers that has set out to investigate the ruin of St Mary’s Church. The now derelict building was once the site of satanic rituals and animal sacrifices, and a history of strange sightings and other paranormal activity has persisted to this day. Surrounded by a frightened and superstitious local population the team sets up for a three day investigation, unaware of what lurks at the old graveyard or what danger they may be in.

p10274185_d_v7_aaWhile undoubtedly marketed as another found footage affair, PD:C is very much a mockumentary; the first third of the film is made up almost entirely of interviews and voice over work. This adds credibility while allowing the filmmakers to let the situation dictate their exposition, without the over reliance on otherwise banal dialogue. This approach also allow the viewers to build a rapport with the characters and the situation, which helps to buy into the more traditional found footage horror elements of the film’s final act. It’s also worth nothing that the crew have confirmed that around 90% of the on screen action was based on actual experiences of the team while filming.

For people expecting a traditional, jumpy horror they are likely to be disappointed; PD:C is much more interested in building tension and atmosphere than throwing out cheap scares for ninety minutes. The film has more in common with the BBC’s paranormal special Ghostwatch than Paranormal Activity, as the on screen action is presented in such a way as to be completely genuine. The scary moments, when they do come, are subtle and designed to make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck rather than force your bum from your chair. And while the inclusion of the post investigation interviews does add an element of predictability to proceedings it never affects the tension.

The performances of the cast are perfect across the board, and it never feels like watching anything but a sincere documentary film unfolding. The editing and setting are both spot on, and the camera work is admirably steady and a world away from the usual motion sickness inducing pap we have grown used to. There is also a very British, stiff upper lip feel to the film that will certainly appeal to UK and European audiences, with characters showing a healthy dose of cynicism in the face of the unfolding horror. The story is very well written and executed, although if one were to pick a fault it was that the ritual element of the films last third could have been left on the cutting room floor with no detriment to the overall experience.

While PD:C may alienate a portion of the modern horror audience that has grown used to jump scares and gore the more discerning fan is likely to appreciate its attempts to do something different, shunning the predictability that this sort of film usually emits in great, stinking waves. One of the freshest and most enjoyable entries into the found footage genre we have seen in years, and one of the best horror films to come out of Britain in many years.

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