THE QUIET ONES Movie Review – Louder Than a Bomb
Back in the day (the day being anywhere from the late ‘50s through the mid-‘70s), Hammer Studios was synonymous with the horror genre, in no small part due to the gothic-themed (and flavored) Dracula and Frankenstein series that ran the length and breadth of Hammer’s heyday. By the late ‘70s, Hammer moved away from horror, a victim of changing times and moviegoer taste, eventually ceasing production altogether. But the name – and everything it stood for – would be resurrected and production resumed with The Woman in Black, a classic-themed supernatural horror story, and the English-language remake of Let the Right One in, a singularly peculiar spin on the well-worn vampire mythos. Hammer’s latest foray into the genre, The Quiet Ones, doesn’t match its predecessors’ quality wise, but it’s not all-out loss, just a partial one.
Set in and around London in 1974, The Quiet Ones focuses on a group of intrepid demon/ghost hunters led by an Oxford professor, Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris). A man of science eager to disprove supernatural explanations for demonic possession, or at least find an alternative explanation to the supernatural, Coupland runs afoul of the university board funding a long-term experiment into the paranormal centered a seemingly troubled young woman, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Jane has a long history of foster care and mental hospitals. She also suffers from repressed memories and self-harms, but Coupland refuses to accept the typical psychiatric diagnoses for Jane’s behavior, especially when Jane exhibits telekinesis on several occasions.
Coupland enlists the aid of two research students, Krissi Dalton (Erin Richards) and Harry Abrams (Rory Fleck-Byrne), and a cameraman, Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin). New to the team, McNeil functions as the viewpoint character, the info magnet or receptacle for Coupland’s long-winded monologues about science, the supernatural, Jane’s condition, and the need to document it all via film (as opposed to video). McNeil’s footage, digitally enhanced (or rather degraded) to look like 16mm film, gives director John Pogue the opportunity to switch not only between film stocks, but aspect ratios too. Sadly those constant changes lose their novelty quickly, but that doesn’t stop Pogue from using the gimmick all the way through to the last scene.
Forced to leave London due to the aforementioned funding issues, Coupland alights to the countryside with his crew and Jane to a gloomy, dilapidated manor, the Old Dark House all too typical of supernatural horror films. The remoteness (no TV, no phones) gives Coupland the perfect opportunity to take the experiment (or the “Experiment” given the emphasis the word repeatedly gets throughout the film) to the next, potentially fatal level. Coupland seems convinced that Jane’s behavior isn’t the result of demonic possession, but a physical manifestation of Jane’s deeply troubled psyche. Krissi, Harry, and Brian – depicted in The Quiet Ones as both a true believer in Christianity (thanks to a conspicuously worn cross) and a skeptic in Coupland’s beliefs or belief in the supernatural. The Quiet Ones quickly puts that skepticism to the test.
The premise and setting are all Pogue needs to stage the usual grab bag of jump scares, including, but not limited to loud knocks, flying objects, levitating bodies, smashed lights, creaky floorboards, and doors that open by themselves. Pogue leans heavily – probably too heavily – on sound design to provide both jump scares and create (if, alas, not maintain) a general sense of unease or discomfiture. Unfortunately, sound design can only take you so far and The Quiet Ones doesn’t go far at all. Pogue and his screenwriting team seem content to play by the familiar rules of the genre. As such, few scares can be described as earned (most scares are of the jump variety).
The throwback 1970s setting and premise will immediately invite comparisons to last year’s superior horror entry, James Wan’s The Conjuring, none of them favorable. Where Wan expertly built up tension and suspense, relying on the “slow-burn”/”turn of the screw” approach to ensnaring audiences in The Conjuring’s many traps, he also understood the need to develop characters, if mostly so audiences could empathize with them later when the supernatural forces attacking the family were in full force. Here, Jane already exhibits disturbing behavior. In fact, she’s already confined to a locked room in Coupland’s London home, repeatedly subjected to loud rock music to muffle the voice(s) inside her head. In the real world, Coupland’s music therapy would be considered torture or its near equivalent. In the 1974 setting of The Quiet Ones, no one blinks an eye or stuff their ears with cotton when Coupland or Harry blast music into Jane’s room.
Incidentally, the title doesn’t refer to the demon or ghost that might be haunting Jane and others like her, but something else (or rather more than one someone) altogether. The explanation comes via a throwaway line of dialogue. Moviegoers who miss that line or even that scene won’t be missing much. Then again, that’s also true of The Quiet Ones.