The Quiet Ones opens with a jarring slash of aural assault and never lets up. Slade’s “Cum On Feel The Noize” leads the charge for recently revived Hammer Films’ attempt to channel 1970s horror. On one hand, it’s nice when a horror film tries to go for creepy instead of gory. It’s another thing when that attempt falls short. This movie tries to appeal to old-school horror fans but only paints by the creepy numbers.
Slade’s tune is introduced to a bewildered audience as a method of sleep deprivation for a troubled young girl named Jane (Olivia Cooke). She is the subject of an experiment by an Oxford man of sorts. Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) specializes in paranormal psychology. He has problems funding his controversial work, but he considers himself able to save the world from mental illness — starting with Jane, who is at least profoundly disturbed. She’s possibly possessed. Jane receives troubling visits from her “alter ego,” which lives inside a doll named Evey. The mad professor enlists an unskilled cameraman, Brian (Sam Claflin), to film Jane’s ongoing sessions. This provides a handy excuse for shaky cam work with a handheld. Coupland’s fellow researchers are Kristina (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), but they don’t matter much at all except as cautionary tales on how not to behave if one wants to survive a horror movie.
The story is very loosely based upon the famed 1972 Philip Experiment, which aimed to prove that ghosts and poltergeists are mere constructs of the human mind. Professor Coupland wants to prove that Jane is not truly spooked and that Evey is only a byproduct of Jane’s telekinesis (interesting what Coupland’s willing to believe and what he wants to disprove, right?). Coupland believes he’s really onto something, but he’s probably more insane than the rest of the characters combined. He doesn’t know what the hell he’s doing, but that’s par for the 1970s. He’s an inflated, overbearing character who exists only to entertain. The actual Philip Experiment wasn’t all that interesting (and may have even been fraudulent), so the filmmakers scandalize the story with Coupland’s antics, a moony Brian (who has fallen in love with Jane). Oh, and Sumerian curses and Satanism. Plus mysterious camerawork. All of this might play well to a younger crowd, but fans of true retro horror won’t be impressed.
The Quiet Ones is a gorgeous film that is filled with plenty of atmospheric touches. Coupland’s experiments take place in a creepy old home that you’d be hard pressed to enjoy in broad daylight. The whole affair would likely be pretty terrifying with the sound turned off. The 16 mm footage from Brian’s camera lends a nice touch, and there’s some 8 mm from an ancillary storyline that produces a nice effect too. Horror junkies will see these things and feel nostalgic for the old Hammer — the studio that created The Plague of the Zombies and Dracula: Prince of Darkness. The nostalgia doesn’t last long.
Sadly, director John Pogue takes the easy way out with this movie. He takes great care to move his characters out of the university setting and into an optimal environment for eerie scares. He sets up plenty of tension. Then he forgets to do anything but create chaos. There are jump scares a plenty. It’s such a f*cking noisy production. All of the shouting, clapping, and ear-splitting music ruins what could have been an enjoyably chilling experience. Basically, I forgot to be scared after I couldn’t stop being annoyed.
The Quiet Ones is atmosphere, more atmosphere, and a massive gotcha. The film is meant to be another take on the war between empirical thinking and the supernatural, but it’s merely a sideshow of one man raging against sanity. There’s nothing new in this movie. Olivia Cooke and Jared Harris give it their all, but their performances deserved better than a movie that doesn’t even bother to do anything but check off campy boxes. Rest assured that the title of this movie does have a purpose; but by the time the audience learns about it, they may have been rendered numb by the raging keg party of noise. It could have been worse, I guess. They could have set the movie in the 1980s and used Quiet Riot’s remake of the Slade song. Now that would be truly horrific.
Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She can be found at Celebitchy.