By title alone, The Paranormal Diaries: Clophill might sound like a lame, straight-to-video Paranormal Activity ripoff, and that's because it essentially is. The Zombie Diaries directors Michael Bartlett and Kevin Gates set this warmed-over mockunentary in the quiet Bedfordshire village of Clophill, namely St. Mary's Church, which is said to be a hotbed for Satanists and witchcraft. A small crew aims to spend three nights there investigating paranormal activity, yet given that the movie inter-splices those filmed events with post-situation interviews, we know that nothing truly horrific happens - i.e. nobody dies - which essentially drains the film almost entirely of every possible morsel of tension. Highly derivative of found footage fare in general but also more specifically of the recent Frightfest hit Kill List, this is an utterly limp, almost entirely scare-free horror flick, one which will evaporate from most minds soon after curtain call. Above all else, this is a dispiriting low-budget horror that tries to milk the success of the Paranormal Activity approach to found footage, though completely slits its own throat by undercutting its own potential for suspense. That it has earned a sequel due for release next year, The Paranormal Diaries: Mothman, is a disgrace. Dreadful.
Hansel & Gretel Get Baked
It might not raise the highest of expectations going by its straight-to-video-baiting title, but Hansel & Gretel Get Baked is considerably smarter and more imaginative than this year's major Hollywood release, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters. Here Gretel is a nubile young stoner, and when her boyfriend ends up on the wrong side of a pot dealer witch named Agnes (Lara Flynn Boyle) who eats people to maintain her youth, Gretel and her straight-faced brother Hansel decide to investigate. Right from the opening Cary Elwes' cameo as a bespectacled, moustachioed meter man, this is a film that aims to confound audiences. The ace in the hole is unquestionably Lara Flynn Boyle's extraordinarily game performance as Agnes, kitted out nearly unrecognisably in old lady makeup, and clearly savouring the opportunity to ham it up for the rafters. Though she and the film are never as good as their opening gambits, her turf war with the local drug dealers, if a little ordinary, is certainly weird enough to maintain viewer interest. Surprisingly sharp direction from Duane Journey combines with an appealing cast such that even though the fitful second half leaves things on shaky ground - and the resolution is especially too easy - it's largely an entertaining, undemanding sit. Though never as uproarious as during its establishing scenes, Hansel & Gretel Get Baked coasts on a brilliant performance from Lara Flynn Boyle, even if it's strictly for fans of the stoner movie formula.
Frequently sleep-deprived film addict and video game obsessive who spends more time than is healthy in darkened London screening rooms. Follow his twitter on @ShaunMunroFilm or e-mail him at shaneo632 [at] gmail.com.