Videographer Brian McNeil is asked to join Oxford Profressor Joseph Coupland and his group of Quiet Ones, a small group of trusted students who help him investigate the supernatural. Coupland needs Brian to record their experiments involving a young girl, Jane Harper, who is prone to unexplained projections similar to those described as poltergeist activity. Coupland hopes to be able to isolate the entity, remove it from the subject and cure her of her affliction: to cure the supernatural.
The Quiet Ones is a solid thriller but falls short of terrifying and frightening its audience. Hammer Films returns again with another supernatural feature hoping to replicate the success they experienced with The Woman in Black. Writers Craig Rosenberg, Oren Movement and Tom de Ville set the film in the early 1970’s, near the dates when the controversial parapsychology experiment from which the story is based took place. John (Quarantine 2: Terminal) Pogue steps in to direct the film with keen eye for location, light and shadow. The cast is superb with Jared (Mad Men) Harris as Professor Coupland and Olivia (Bates Motel) Cooke as Jane Harper. The film is filled with jump scares and loud jolts to keep the audience on edge but a lack of investment into the characters and, most importantly, young Jane Harper keep the film from connecting on an skin crawling emotional level.
The script quickly establishes Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin – The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Snow White and the Huntsman) as the chief protagonist of The Quiet Ones. His character is the outsider, the everyman, to the rest of the group of scientists involved in the experiments into the supernatural. This allows his character to keep the story grounded without having to deal too heavily with the bigger scientific elements. He is more interested in the well being, physically and emotionally, with the subject: Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). As the story progresses amping up the manifestations and the unexplained, he become more and more infatuated and protective of Jane. While this helps establish a bond to the girl who would otherwise be confined to a padded cell, allowing her to open up to Brian and the audience, it also keeps him from becoming afraid. And by placing him as the conduit for the audience into the story, this goes a long way in preventing the audience from being afraid as well. If Brian is strong enough to be unaffected, then the audience is right there with him. This makes the film less scary than is could be, than is should be; which would be fine, if the relationship the film builds between Brian and Jane were stronger. Without either emotional element being fully or richly developed, the film never rises above its own drama.
The story of Jane Harper has a lot going for it: a young orphan, who has no family and is all but forgotten by society. She is a perfect icon for the audience to rally behind, to stand beside Brian in hope that she can indeed be saved. But the problem is that she has nothing to lose, there is no consequence if she is not saved outside of it being a sad, unrewarding event. A bit harsh perhaps, but the film never establishes what she will truly gain if she is saved, what life will she lose if she is not saved. In The Exorcist, young Regan’s life will be ripped from her and she will be ripped from her mother’s arms, both characters have the audience into their lives and their relationship. The Quiet Ones never achieves that with Jane Harper and even goes out of its way at times to further dilute that with unnecessary questioning of her relationship with Professor Coupland. The film needs to treat her more like Nell Sweetzer from The Last Exorcism, to bring that feeling of loss into the story. It tries, but gets confused along the way.
The Quiet Ones feels very much like a film derived from the time in which the film is set, the 1970’s. It has a strong Legend of Hell House vibe to it that is greatly appreciated. For the most part it steers clear of the CGI infused supernatural horror infesting many modern PG-13 horror fare. It does depend on it from time to time, but gratefully, when the ending comes, it does not rely on it to tell it story instead using it only to accent where needed. Most of the beats and jumps are from the characters and the sound track. The film also uses a pseudo-found-footage approach to many of its scenes utilizing the first person experience from the film’s lead, Brian, who is the one behind the camera. For the most part this works well and within the time frame even if the technicality of it comes into questions – most simply will not know or not care. Regardless, the effect of the camera capturing many of the film’s highlights works in the film’s favor. The film also suffers a similar fate to that of Legend of Hell House in that its characters are more walking through the story than being invested emotionally in its out come and consequences. While they are risking their careers and possibly their lives, their gains are too unrealized to be of interest – the film goes out of its way, almost unnecessarily, to establish a harsh criticism to their efforts from the onset.
Jared Harris is marvelous as Professor Joseph Couplan. He brings an authority to his role and a questionable morality both in the well being of his subject and those who assist him. He is open and giving with his knowledge and opinions but he is quick to offer them a way out, inviting the other to leave time and again. Regardless, Harris’ talent brings a solid core to the film; while Brian is the protagonist, the story is actually belongs to Couplan. Whenever Harris steps into frame, the audience pays attention to him; he is magnetic and captivating, holding onto the audiences’ every whisper and gasp. Sam Clafin as Brian does his best to keep up wavering only when in a group. He stands out when he is set opposite Jane Harper where he struggles with his emotions he begins to feel for the subject and the conflict that arises between being the observer and the participant. It is a different role for him here than he has as Finnick Odair in Hunger Games where he now needs to dial his presence down to be the everyman instead of the big action hero.
Olivia Cooke is haunting as Jane Harper. The film needs much more of her and her character to draw the audience in further. She brings the innocent, tortured soul to life but is never offered the opportunity early on to establish her character beyond the patient, the subject, the possessed. Unfortunately her tears are never heartfelt to the character as they are to the actor. Even with the hollow approach the script takes in establishing Jane Harper, Cooke is more than able to bring a sense of pain and loss and desire to the role. When she stares into Brian’s eyes, there is little doubt the character is reaching out to be held and understood. The problems begin when the character needs to bounce between her normal self, whatever that may be, and the version that is forging the supernatural forces. The script never establishes a sense of loss for the character, she is far to willing to give in to the spirit, to death, to temptation without consideration to any surroundings.
The Quiet Ones is a near miss, a solid little thriller with well constructed pacing and exception acting, but it struggles to bring what the audience is craving: scares. It never allows its audience to get properly invested in its characters or their relations. It seemingly randomly calls every action, every emotion, into doubt making it difficult to determine what is authentic and what is manipulation. As a result, the scares are watered down, the atmosphere is weakened and the audience is far less engaged than the script would like them to be. It is more than a little frustrating because the concepts, the direction and the acting are deserving of a great film, of a classic entry into the Hammer Films halls of horror. It is not necessarily a bad film, at times, in fact, it is quite good; it is just a last luster horror film without the scares to support it. Given the time the film emulates so well, The Quiet Ones is a second billing film on a one week only double feature without the strength to stand on its own.
2.5 out of 5