After the carefully crafted, well-acted and frankly pretty scary The Woman in Black remake, Hammer have returned with another British ghost story. This time merging two popular horror genres, found footage and period set poltergeists, in an attempt to secure them a spooky smash hit.
On paper you can clearly see the high concept marketing math. Hammer hopes that blending the mind bendingly popular faux documentary style that has proved seemingly unstoppable, with a historic setting, as seen in extremely successful films like The Conjuring and The Awakening (and many other movies with titles that probably start with ‘The’ as well) will equal box office gold.
Sadly, on screen The Quiet Ones fails to prompt loud screams of fear or joy. But this is not because anything is particularly wrong with it, it’s just that nothing is especially inspiring, invigorating or original within it either.
The story is set in England in the 70’s where noted Professor Coupland (the always excellent Jared Harris) has assembled a team of his best students plus a young camera man named Brian (The Hunger Games Sam Claflin) to prove his controversial theory that ghosts are simply created by negative human energy.
As the experiment is unsanctioned and unauthorized the team takes over an old mansion in the middle of nowhere where they push the limits of their test subject, a disturbed young girl named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke from Bates Motel). They believe an evil supernatural presence is living within her.
As the obsessive and dominating Coupland takes his tests further into unethical and almost torturous territory, Jane manifests more and more unexplainable powers and unnatural occurrences befall the entire team. It is left to outsider Brian to decide whether he will simply bear witness with his camera or take action and stop the experiment before its too late for them all.
Loosely based on the Philip Experiment which took place in the early 70’s and saw a team of Canadian parapsychologists who attempted to create a ghost themselves proving all supernatural goings on where simply products of the human psyche (all of which later proved to be a hoax) The Quiet Ones attempts to toy with the audience keeping them unsure of whether what they are seeing is real or not, emphasising this immensely with the found footage filming.
With Brian as our eyes and ears, quite literally as we frequently see through his camera lens, the movie keeps us undecided as to whether it is a real case of possession and paranormal manifestation, or proof of Coupland’s theory and all brought about by Jane’s mind and the investment and fright of other folks around her.
This ambiguity is the interesting element to The Quiet Ones paralleling Cronenberg’s brilliant The Brood in some ways but sadly like a university paper written the night before the deadline it doesn’t seem to fully investigate its own ideas especially when at one point we are offered up a whole new option of explanation, that the whole thing is a hoax, which is far too quickly disregarded.
All the performances are solid with Harris on fine form as the lecherous and unhinged academic and Cooke with her J-Horror black hair playing creepy and innocent with equal aplomb. However, no amount of acting can cover up the fact that the characters are pure cliché.
Everyone’s actions and reactions are extremely predictable from the off even if you haven’t seen that many horror movies making the screenplay, which was written by four people, seem slightly flat and obvious even when it does try to trick the viewer. This is a great pity as The Quiet Ones has potential.
Instead it seems that Hammer and director John Pogue have spent too much time copying successful horror movie formats and formulas to create a film with mass audience appeal and not enough time trying to scare the living hell out of people.