The oldest tropes in the horror genre get their very own haunted home in The Quiet Ones, the latest release from the recently resuscitated U.K. studio Hammer Film Productions. While not particularly quiet, the movie contains a potentially mad professor, a group of generically attractive young adults, a spooky manor with electrical issues and doors that open and close of their own volition, and a demon. Thereís no way around it: The Quiet Ones is achingly formulaic and only sporadically scary -- but when it works, it really works.
Directed and co-written by John Pogue, the picture follows abnormal-psychology professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) as he attempts to prove that individuals suffering from what appears to be demonic possession are merely afflicted with an abundance of negative telekinetic energy; furthermore, he posits that this energy can be transferred to a harmless vessel, such as a doll. When the university that employs him stops funding his experiments, Coupland takes his students Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), as well as aspiring A/V geek Brian (Sam Claflin), to an old and lonely mansion to continue his research.
Couplandís subject is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a young woman who believes she is possessed by a presence named Evey. Although Cooke certainly looks the part of a little girl lost, the tale of Jane Harper and Evey is the weakest element of the film. Couplandís methods of treating Jane -- through sleep deprivation, isolation, and constant exposure to loud music -- seem archaic and a little cruel, and the professorís own mental decline is too obvious for his assistantsí devotion to him to remain believable. Nor does the attraction between Jane and Brian make much sense. Whether itís due to supernatural activity or a chemical imbalance, Jane is profoundly fragile and disturbed; Brian, clearly meant to be the kindest and most compassionate member of the group, seems unlikely to pursue a romance with such a vulnerable person.
However, the filmís atmosphere is as strong as the script is weak. Set in the 1970s, the movie has a grainy, muted quality evocative of horror flicks of old, and manages to present itself as nostalgic without being overly camp. The cast have a welcomingly real quality to them that offers a stark contrast to the glossy, oversexualized look of more modern films. There is, of course, a little bit of sex -- even a flash of nipple -- but it remains an undercurrent as opposed to a tidal wave, giving depth to the implications of the sexual tension and gender politics that contribute to the already tense air of the house. There are an abundance of ìgotchaî moments, but they are well-executed and genuinely terrifying.
The Quiet Ones may be imperfect, predictable, and occasionally nonsensical, but it is on the whole a successful film at creating a palpable sense of dread and reinforcing societyís deeply held fears of spooky old homes, ghosts, devils, and manís inhumanity to man.
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