23 April 2014 | TheSquiss
Intriguing, enjoyable, supernatural horror that lacks sufficient bite to really scare.
The Quiet Ones is the latest offering from resurrected horror studios Hammer Films. After the mixed fortunes of The Resident, Wake Wood, Let Me In and The Woman in Black, the studio that was once the spearhead of Great British horror lets rip with a chilling tale, purportedly based on truth, about a psychiatric patient's apparent supernatural abilities.
University professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) and his research students, Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), study Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) through a slot in a locked door as, alone in her room, she appears able to summon the dead. While Jane torments herself and suffers at the hands of an apparent poltergeist, Coupland and his team endeavour to explain every occurrence with reason and logic. He recruits a young filmmaker, Brian (Sam Claflin), to document the experiment but Brian falls for Jane and her behavior becomes ever more extreme. But everything can be explained with science. Can't it?
We've been here before. The Quiet Ones is not an entirely original idea, but then neither was The Borderlands, and look how unnerving that was! It's a fine idea with great settings (Oxford University, an abandoned mansion) and good performances. The trouble is, for a horror it isn't terribly scary. I sat down for the screening expecting to grip the arms of my seat, scrunch up my toes and wonder again what the hell I was doing putting myself through this. Alas, the hair on the back of my neck remained largely prostrate. Maybe three horror films in a week deadens the impact.
There are plenty good 'jumps' but most are introduced with a rousing score or an obvious lull in activity. There are a few red herrings to build the tension and leave the viewer taut with expectation but at no point could I say I was scared or needed to look away from the screen to remind myself I was safe and in a cinema and not right there and about to be evil's next victim. Being on edge is good, but not good enough.
The special effects work well and there are one or two particularly enjoyable moments where DoP Mátyás Erdély has let rip with the lighting and camera work. Likewise, the props and set dressing set the scene beautifully but, were it not for the cast, John Pogue's film would be merely dull instead of at least managing to be enjoyable.
The last time I saw Jared Harris, he was swinging at the end of a rope in Mad Men and it's great to see him back on the big screen in a role that is less constricting than that of Lane Pryce. His Coupland is a combination of obsessive sleazebag and kindly mentor and the blend is perfect, never veering into the realms of pastiche. Likewise, Richards, most recently seen in Open Grave, draws us in with her determined temptress, the kind of girl you'd want to know but never cross.
It is Olivia Cooke, though, who makes The Quiet Ones worthwhile. It is difficult not to focus on her when she appears, even fleetingly, upon the screen. The other actors are her guests as she commands our attention. Always convincing as Jane the vulnerable waif, acolyte of evil and desperate victim, she manages to be sexy and enticing despite her sunken eyes and bruised skin; a black widow that Brian, unsurprisingly, struggles to resist. Let's hope Cooke isn't merely a saving grace in her next project: screenwriter Stiles White's directorial debut, Ouija.
The morning after, The Quiet Ones remains an intriguing story, true or not, that is well performed. But it lacks guts or real bite and, perhaps, could do with being a lot louder.
Or at least whispering in a very sinister way
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