An abysmal horror movie that apparently wants to evoke the spirit of paranormal thrillers of the sixties (like “The Haunting”) but quickly degenerates into a chaotic mishmash of modern genre tropes, “The Quiet Ones” ends up an unholy mess. It’s particularly depressing as the second offering from the rejuvenated Hammer banner, following their far more successful Daniel Radcliffe vehicle, “The Woman in Black.”
Set in the 1970s and based—very loosely, as it turns out—on what an introductory blurb calls a real incident, it tells of Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris), an oddball Oxford don who’s a specialist in paranormal psychology and takes a trio of students—mini-skirted Krissi (Erin Richards), her gregarious boyfriend Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and sober-serious Brian (Sam Claflin—to an isolated estate to help in an experiment involving Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a deeply troubled young woman whom he’s apparently rescued from an asylum. A committed scientist, his goal is to explain in rational terms a condition that many might ascribe to some sort of demonic possession (in particular by a force personified in her darker side, a figure called Evey). He intends to prove that Jane’s malady has been fabricated by her own mind from her life experience, and can be cured; and if he succeeds with one, he can succeed with all.
Coupland’s methods are indeed strange ones, involving locking poor Jane in a room and using various means—none of them particularly gentle—to get her to remember the past so that the symptoms of her illness (like setting things afire or smashing up rooms by psychic force) can be eradicated. Krissi and Harry support him in all this with only occasional reservations, while Brian—a studious, quiet fellow who was just added to the team to film all the details of the experiment—quickly becomes solicitous of Jane and harbors concerns about what Coupland is putting her through. Eventually he also goes off by himself and, in a single afternoon at the library, uncovers information about the girl’s past, including links to an ancient cult, that apparently fell outside the learned professor’s ken. The final reels bring lots of commotion, including fights and, of course, a few deaths.
This narrative—haphazard and ragged as it is, as scripted by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman and John Pogue—is told by Pogue (also serving as director) utilizing all the modern clichés of the genre. The fact that Brian is recording all the phenomena allows for the use of the hackneyed “found footage” technique, with its herky-jerky hand-held camerawork (courtesy of cinematographer Matyas Erdely) an faux-sloppy editing (by Glenn Garland). And that’s punctuated with excerpts from older, black-and white footage showcasing an earlier case of a boy who suffered from symptoms similar to Jane’s—the relevance of which is held in “suspense” until a none-too-surprising revelation of the lad’s identity near the close.
And contrary to the title, the picture is hardly a quiet affair; apart from Jane’s shrieks and screams, which occur with remarkable regularity, the running-time is replete with the usual assortment of unworldly thumps and crashes. When one adds to the loud music that for some reason frequently fills the soundtrack (not merely Lucas Vidal’s music but some period standards), the result is a terrible racket.
The performances are no better than the material deserves. Harris contributes his customary highly affected turn, coming off as the campy mad scientist. (I guess it’s thought typically seventies that he smokes like a chimney.) Richard flounces about like someone escaped from the Swinging London scene, while Fleck-Byrne plays Harry as a goofy prankster in immediate need of a good thrashing. Cooke swings ably enough from a haunted, stricken look to wide-eyed hysteria. Claflin who’s being promoted as a prospective leading man in the business, is stiff as a board here. Admittedly the drab, dull Brian isn’t a character that w
Though it’s a loud movie, “The Quiet Ones” is in one respect aptly titled. Unlike “The Woman in Black,” it will make no noise at the boxoffice, and will quickly sink into silence.