Written by: Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, & John Pogue (screenplay), Tom de Ville (screenplay)
Directed by: John Pogue
Starring: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, and Olivia Cooke
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďWhat if you could prove the supernatural was merely a manifestation of whatever already exists in the mind?"
For its latest outing, Hammer Films returns to the same ghastly territory that scored them a hit with 2012ís The Woman in Black. However, whereas that film was such a throwback that it felt like a lost film from the studioís glory days, The Quiet Ones feels more like an attempt to keep up with the Joneses (or the Blumhouses, as it were), as Hammer finds itself circling the same material thatís crept onto theater screens for the past few years. Itís essentially a grab-bag effort that stuffs ghosts, found footage, and faux-verite stylings into a package thatís hiding the stuff of classic Hammer at its centeróletís just say that they could have easily titled it The Devil Hides Out.
Based (loosely, as it turns out) on a true story, The Quiet Ones centers on an experiment by Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris), an enigmatic Oxford professor convinced that he can physically isolate the psychosis of his patients. His latest subject is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a young girl who claims to be haunted by a malevolent firebrand named Evey. To conduct his experiment, Coupland secures an abandoned rural farmhouse and recruits a trio of students, including videographer Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin), whose camera quickly captures bizarre, inexplicable activity.
And by quickly, I do mean quickly. The Quiet Ones had me leaping from my chair early and often, which is not to say itís a particularly scary filmójust that it has a tough time living up to its title, as itís a procession of loosely-orchestrated clashes and clangs from the opening bell. As such, itís a little more relentless than typical Hammer efforts in its spook-a-blast mentality, if you can really call it that (itís not a particularly fun movie and is soused in self-seriousness scientific/philosophic pontificating, none of which really ever add up). Any sense of creeping terror is diffused by the filmís front-loaded structure, which introduces Jane to both the audience and their conduit (Claflin), and her immediately strange behavior just yields to bigger, more pronounced fits of weirdness as the film repetitively crawls along.
That description probably sounds like a precisely structured, escalatory ghost story, but The Quiet Ones never reaches full-throttle (unlike, say, The Conjuring, which roars out of the gate and never stops). Its plot mechanics are consistently stifled by attempts to unpack and explain both Janeís haunting and Couplandís vague method of curing her. For every sťance, thereís a post-game report where the crew has to gather themselves and explain away their doubts (it doesnít take long for Brian to believe Coupland to be nothing but a charlatan). Given that an early scene involves Coupland challenging the skeptics in the room (which gives way to a discussion with Brian revolving faith), youíd think The Quiet Ones would revolve around such dilemmas; instead, itís just the framework for an intriguing idea (that supernatural encounters are nothing more than some sort of pent-up, observable energy) thatís drowned out in a sea of noise (appropriately enough--or not when you consider the title--Couplandís methods involve blasting Sladeís ďCome On Feel the NoiseĒ).
Most curious is how the film settles for such a routine explanation for Janeís psychosis; Iíll refrain from spoiling, but, suffice it to say, itís a disappointing resolution that hearkens back to the psychological twists and turns that were a preoccupation of films about a decade ago. In this case, itís at least infused with a classic Hammer flavor as The Quiet Ones skirts around the familiar occult grounds of the studioís heyday. Even this angle is sadly undernourished, as Brianís investigation into Janeís past reveals a sordid episode that deserves its own movie; here, itís just background noise, though it does make the case that horror period pieces should have a long shelf-life because nobody wants to see protagonists look up a cultís history on an iPhone. Only faded, mysterious photos in a big, spooky looking book will do, and this is one of the few moments The Quiet Ones finds a spark. Itís a reminder that Hammer might need to revisit the devil himself, seeing as how that worked out so well in the past.
To its credit, The Quiet Ones at least finds a decent demonic substitute in Jane Harper because Cooke is kind of goddamned amazing. Thereís been no shortage of creepy white girls on screen here lately, but Cooke makes one of the stronger impressions. Her opening scene has her shift from an innocent, doe-eyed victim to a sinister menace in the span of a few sentences. So it goes for the rest of the film: neither the audience nor Brian can quite get a handle on the girl, who often seems to be at war with herself and Evey. The same is true of Coupland: while Harris plays him with a hint of sneering contempt at all times, some revelations attempt to shift the audienceís sympathies late in the game (though any goodwill for some characters is almost immediately squandered by a confusing finale that just sort of confirms every suspicion you had about everyone).
The fractured nature of The Quiet Ones is evident throughout, from the mish-mash of plot-lines to the patchwork style. Instead of completely embracing the found footage style, director John Pogue opts to scatter Brianís footage throughout the proceedings, a decision thatís admittedly clever and less problematic than most films in this genre, though I think he misses a neat trick by not having the footage straight up resemble the style of a 1974 Hammer film (the ratio changes to the traditional 1.66, but, otherwise, it still looks like everyoneís playing dress-up, including the footage itself, tattered and dotted with grain and pops and whatnot).
For the second time in about eighteen months, a horror film has attempted to merge science with the supernatural in order to explain or isolate phenomena. While The Quiet Ones isnít as disappointing as The Apparition in this respect, you have to wonder if weíre due a film that tackles the relationship between science and the paranormal in a smart, thought-provoking fashion. For now, weíll have to settle for stuff like The Quiet Ones, which satisfies the visceral requirements for the genre through sheer force of volumeóitíll certainly keep you jarred, if nothing else. Otherwise, itís a rather unstimulating convergence of undercooked ideas and clichťd imagery, a formula that results in a rare misfire for Hammer since its resurrection. Rent it!
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