BBFC Classification: 15
Director: John Pogue
Starring: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Olivia Cooke, Laurie Calvert
If, like me, you are of a certain age and your body is advancing in years way ahead of your mental state, there is a certain joy in seeing the Hammer logo flashing across the screen in blood-red letters before the start of a film. Whilst not always a guarantee of a great film per se it is at least a brand name that you can trust to entertain you, a name that tells you before the opening credits roll that this is a film that is going to give you certain things – creepy Gothic settings, supernatural monsters, swashbuckling heroes, buxom wenches and so on – and since the Hammer name was resurrected during the last decade it has come to signify some of those things (to a lesser degree) but also that it is a name that represents British horror filmmaking. In a certain way, The Quiet Ones is a good example of what the Hammer name means to today’s audiences – it is British, it is a horror film and there is an attempt to create an uneasy, disturbing atmosphere that will (possibly) make you jump and shriek. It worked very well in Wake Wood and, to a lesser extent, The Woman in Black, a film that somewhat sacrificed artistic integrity for putting teenage bums on seats but that is neither here nor there.
However, in many other ways The Quiet Ones is also a good example of the growing mediocrity to be found in modern horror films. We’ve all seen the setup dozens of times in films over the past few years – a young girl may be possessed or she may just be mad, and a doctor with less than impeccable intent tries to get to the bottom of it with a team of young assistants all going along with him one minute and questioning what is going on the next, until the inexpiable happens and doors start slamming, light bulbs start smashing and it all comes to a head in an explosion of repetitive tedium – so is there anything about The Quiet Ones that makes it stick out above the rest of the Insidious or The Conjuring clones out there?
No, unless you count the previously mentioned Hammer logo and that is what is most disappointing about this film. When Hammer became a working studio again the first couple of releases were a little shaky but with Let Me In and Wake Wood the studio seemed to be putting its name to quality horror films that told intelligent stories that harked back to tradition but with a modern spin that didn’t rely on naff CGI and cheap jump scares. The Woman in Black was a little more commercial and seemed to pander to a younger audience but don’t most production houses throw one of those out every so often to bulk up the piggy bank? And it did do the business at the box-office so if nothing else it put the Hammer name back out there properly, but instead of following it up with something a little more cerebral it seems that Hammer want to continue down the path of the generic and obvious.
The plot is quite literally as I described previously so with a less-than-inspired idea you would hope that the story would be bolstered by some inspiring performances. Sadly this isn’t to be the case. Dr. Joseph Coupland – the bog-standard maverick university professor – is played by Jared Harris (The Ward/Poltergeist), who may well have been following the direction he was given but he comes across as nothing more than a poor man’s Kenneth Branagh in a local theatre production of Branagh’s own version of Frankenstein; he’s calm to start with and then he moves around, flailing his arms, speaking louder and getting more and more dramatic with his shirt occasionally open but it’s all rather uninspired and quite boring to watch. However, his amateur dramatics-like performance is almost an exciting improvisation masterclass when compared to his co-stars, who make up Coupland’s team of assistants.
There is Brian (Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), the cameraman who has been tasked to document the events of Coupland’s experiments (helpfully called ‘The Experiment’ in the film). Of course, everything has to be on camera or it isn’t real and his role is rather thankless, although not quite as thankless as that of Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne – Vampire Academy), who seems to do something or other with EMF waves although we’re never quite sure of what or who he is because he is so blandly written and poorly acted.
The other member of the team is Krissi (Erin Richards – Open Grave), a Kiera Knightly lookalike whose role, it appears, is to sleep with everybody on the team and not mind who knows about it. Again, no performance to speak of and very little characterisation. Which leaves Jane (Olivia Cooke – Bates Motel), the patient being experimented with; long black hair? Check. Pale features enhanced with CGI whenever she gets angry? Check. Seen this all before? Check. Know where it’s going? Check.
Which may all sound rather scathing of the film, so is there anything to recommend it? Not if you’ve seen The Conjuring or The Exorcist (two films that The Quiet Ones would love to be as they provide a lot of the material for it) or if you’re about 12 and the only horror film you’ve seen is The Woman in Black or its even more tedious sequel. To be fair, the film is set in 1974 and the filmmakers have desperately tried to recreate a 1970s feel (because nothing says 1970’s Britain more than Slade’s ‘Cum On Feel the Noize’, as we’re reminded at least three times) but it just doesn’t work as well as it did in The Conjuring, a film that felt like it was made in the era in which it was set.
The special effects are very basic and underplayed, which is to the film’s credit, but why there is a documentary on the disc about the visuals is anyone’s guess. The CGI is mostly kept to fire and smoke effects – mostly, as there are a few minor deviances – but The Quiet Ones doesn’t go as digitally-heavy as a lot of modern supernatural films do, although given the total blandness of the film maybe it should have done, if only to liven things up a bit. Slow-burning supernatural occult horrors, when done properly, should build to an exciting crescendo of either a) blood-curdling violence that shows off what a creative effects artist can do or b) an emotional resolve with characters you care about having gone through the wringer and coming out the other side or c) both; The Quiet Ones does none of these things and hopefully does not represent the direction that Hammer will be going in the future. It has been announced that the studio will be remaking their own 1957 film The Abominable Snowman with a view to creating new versions of some of their other classics if it is successful – with such a well of material to draw upon, this may be the way to go if The Quiet Ones is indicative of the original material they want to put out. Very disappointing.
Special Features: Audio commentary with director John Pogue and producer Tobin Armbrust, Welcome to the Experiment: Making The Quiet Ones featurette, Manifesting Evil: Visual Effects featurette, deleted scenes and outtakes.
UK Release Date: 18th August 2014