In March 1963, a black mass was held at a ruined church in Clophill, Bedfordshire by a coven of dark witches. Tombs were looted, animals sacrificed and human bones arranged during a macabre ceremony. Further defilements continued at Clophill in the following years, with cattle in nearby fields found mutilated, evidence of necromancy discovered and perpetual sightings of paranormal activity witnessed at the isolated ruin. 50 years on from the original incident, the Clophill legend remains etched on the psyches of the local populace. In 2010, a documentary team was assembled to investigate the legend of the Clophill witches and to try and uncover the truth behind the paranormal events. What followed during that long weekend at Clophill was a terrifying journey into the unknown.
Remember when The Blair Witch Project first came out? Afterwards, we were fed a barrage of bastardizations of BWP’s unique camera approach. The Paranormal Diaries is one such bastardization. The set up runs akin to every Paranormal Activity film in the franchise. Using this approach, I imagine the directors wanted the audience to feel closer to the terror unfolding on screen. They prelude the investigation with what operates similarly to a History Channel documentary. Desperately, they desire the audience to feel a sense of truth behind their mockumentary. And in their desperation, they fail.
If anything, their attempts not only accentuate the cliché variable obvious here, but also bore the viewer into a deep slumber. You watch and wait for it to get creepy, slightly startling, or even exciting. This moment will never arrive. PD is a conglomerate of pasted together scenes from hokey “paranormal investigative” shows, the type currently dominating History Channel. The people on screen leading the investigation may feel the chills, hear the noises, and see the shadows, but we (the viewers) see nothing but a bunch of individuals shouting in night vision.
This, coupled with painfully unoriginal concepts, creates an almost unwatchable film. The film’s documentary style introduction isn’t something we haven’t seen time and time again. When watching these interviews with persons familiar with the notorious Clophill Church, you’ll notice certain words continuously repeated. The interviewees keep saying words and phrases like “black magic,” “black mass,” and “Satanism,” almost as if they are intentionally trying to drill it into your head. They pound the subject so hard, you begin to wonder when they’ll eventually get on with it and move to the point.
Then we start to meet the team. Michael and Criselda are a married couple. Naturally, they have a child who tends to collect strange imaginary friends. At the movie’s conclusion, Grace picks up a new friend, a dark and “not nice” one, implicating that the people involved in the investigation have demons following them. Again, these ideas and their execution on screen result in overdone tropes. What happens in between the interviews and introduction to the main characters and the film’s conclusion is an elongated shot of investigators letting us know what they find unsettling.
At one point, I wonder why there’s a man in a tuxedo participating in the ghost hunt. Because when I go demon and ghost hunting, I make damn sure I look classy.
But hey, at least I discovered one unique morsel out of this steaming pile of defecation. Aside from this golden moment, only a few occasions merit attention. We’re treated to a viewing of the directors’ definition of a “black mass.” The scene starts wonderfully. Cloaks walk in a line forming a circle around the naked body of a young girl. One of the hooded men smears her with blood —and I think, finally! They’ve caught my attention. However, this sudden thrill is abruptly cut short. Another one of the hooded men manifests in front of the peeping camera crew. The crew, like the cowards they’ve been for the entirety of the movie, bolts out of the woods, and we never again see the Satanists—the one alluring component of the movie; we see it for maybe two minutes.
Another part of the movie demonstrates the ghost hunters enacting a test of gall. Each member of the team must stand alone in a faraway area of the woods for ten minutes. You would think this would provide an opportune time to showcase some terrifyingly creepy scenes.
No such luck at all. Only two of the participants have a somewhat exciting phenomena occur (and one of them is too oblivious to even notice it). During one ten minute sit-in, we see a white obtuse figure in the background, and then it quickly vanishes. The other wanders off. The rest of his team can’t find him, and the audience anxiously awaits the slaughter. But alas, it never happens. Not one person in this movie actually dies or incurs any bodily injury. How awfully disappointing. In the end, all I can say is…yawn.