Silver Screen: The Quiet Ones *
The Quiet Ones is almost the right title for the second release from the rejuvenated British horror production company Hammer Films. The perfect title would have been The Ones Who Are Quiet but Then Get Really Loud All of a Sudden.
Too-on-the-nose, perhaps, but it does describe The Quiet Ones’ primary strategy for frightening its audiences. Of course, you could sit in a dark room and pay a kid eight bucks to occasionally bang some pots and pans together and achieve the same effect.
The story combines the standard-issue possession tale with a healthy dose of the ubiquitous found-footage trend (Paranormal Activity I through IV, The Last Exorcism). But it’s British and set in the 1970s, so the camera is old, thus making it totally different.
The Quiet Ones isn’t found-footage horror in the strictest sense. The first-person camerawork is a gimmick within the film, but it accounts for a significant percentage of the arduous hour-and-forty-minute running time, and is the default setting when the movie wants to conjure up some scares.
The generic brunette chosen for haunting this time around is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a foster child bounced from home to home where paranormal incidents prompt the families to exchange her for a little girl who’s less of a vessel for supernatural evil. Because apparently British laws were pretty chill back in the pre-Thatcher days, charismatic professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is allowed to lock Jane in a room and perform experiments on her in an effort to prove the so-called hauntings in which she’s been involved are just manifestations of her telekinetic powers. So, you know, nothing dangerous.
To prove his theory that Jane Harper is more Carrie White than Regan MacNeil, professor Coupland conscripts his two prize students, blonde sexpot Krissi (Erin Richards) and her dim but enthusiastic boyfriend Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), to assist him with the project. He also hires a cameraman from outside the university, the unpretentious Brian (Sam Claflin), a film enthusiast who can’t afford Oxford and knows little of Coupland’s theories. They hole up first in a university building, then a rented house as Coupland prods and pesters Jane in the hopes of provoking a supernatural episode Brian can capture on film. This is all part of his inexplicable assertion that by proving telekinesis does exist they can isolate it and separate it from Jane, curing not just her but all mental illness.
There’s no use trying to suss out exactly how that might work, because of course it doesn’t. Instead, stubborn Coupland presses on even when Jane’s spooky outbreaks threaten to turn deadly for both her and the team.
The real victims, though, are anyone watching this movie with headphones on. Their eyes will be lulled into torpor by overfamiliar, unimaginative horror-movie imagery while their ears are assaulted by blaring sound cues intended to startle them into having some kind of reaction. It’s nerve-jangling in all the wrong ways.
Nobody in the movie is remotely likable, not even everyman audience surrogate Brian, whose romantic fixation on the young, clearly troubled Jane represents creepiness of a different sort. At least Coupland is engaging while he’s being despicable, thanks to an arch performance from the excellent character actor Harris. Everything else about the movie is so dull and perfunctory, you’ll wonder what ever possessed the filmmakers make it.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.