Directed by John Pogue, The Quiet Ones is the latest offering from the resurrected Hammer studio, famous for its classic brand of perfectly balanced camp, gaudy terror. The iconic output of the studio’s heyday now synonymous with British horror, they are six films into a rebirth which has so far produced The Resident and The Woman in Black.
Set in 1970′s Oxford, the story follows a group of students as they are led through an investigation into the apparent possession of a young girl named Jane Harper. Escaping the scrutiny of University authority, the experiment is relocated to a secluded country mansion where efforts to rid Jane of her internal dispute continue.
As you would expect, the methods used are wholly questionable by today’s standards as Jane is subjected to increasingly extreme ‘trials’ in an attempt to draw-out the mysterious presence of ‘Evey’.
As the Jane Harper experiment develops, the story focuses on checking off genre-clichés along the way. There is a lazy tendency which sweeps through much of modern horror; a reliance on shaky cameras filming girls in white nightdresses, faces partially covered by long black hair. The modern ‘don’t investigate that strange noise outside’, it seems sure that if girls stopped wearing white nightdresses, the devil would leave them alone.
Where the film does excel is in the period setting. For the most part, The Quiet Ones looks great and the soundtrack perfectly evokes the era. The more supernatural events are captured through the unsteady hand of student cameraman Brian, who has been drafted in to capture the groups guaranteed success.
Jared Harris is excellent as the experienced lecturer and leader of the trials, Professor Joseph Coupland; a man of one tone, one emotion and one million cigarettes. He is resolute in his steadfast assurance that he is doing what is best for Jane. There is a quiet menace in his refusal to rise to any of the events. Regardless of how supernatural things appear, he attaches logic to each occurrence with unwavering conviction; much to the frustration of his students.
Coupland is balanced amusingly with the two archetypal seventies British teenagers, focused solely on sexual-escapade regardless of the tasteless timing of their affection.
So, back to that title. The Quiet Ones suffers throughout from a SEVERE lack of subtlety – EVERY scare comes from a CRASH or a BANG and EVERY opportunity is taken to JOLT the audience. Films focusing on ‘possession’ have generally always found success in the nuances of story – producing elements that remain with the viewer for some time after the credits roll. The Quiet Ones instead stays with you like an unexpected football to the window. There is too little time offered to development of the motivation for each character – where you expect the most interesting aspects of the tale lie – and when these intricacies do appear, they are quickly dismissed.
As actions escalate towards the close, and more strands are added to the story, a few potential outcomes become possible. And some of them are particularly interesting. Unfortunately, that peak in interest is instantly diminished as they pick the wrong thread to follow and present the audience with a HORRENDOUS closing. But then, the film is based on actual events so we can only assume the ending chosen was in-keeping with what ACTUALLY happened.
Not one you are likely to remember for originality, be it the aforementioned nightdress, an amusing stumble around a pitch-black loft or the terrorising of adults by a child’s imaginary friend. The positive elements of narrative and performance are the quiet ones amid the THUD of unrealised potential.
Gary Scott is on Twitter @troublewithfilm