Something is haunting Jane Harper, but a professor and his students from Oxford may be able to free her from it. I expect another hit from Hammer, instead I witness ho-hum horror. Can anyone issue an APB for that firm grasp on spooking viewers seen in The Woman In Black?
Like a haunted attraction, you go through The Quiet Ones unable to take in the effective atmosphere and become more unfazed as it goes on. Poor director of photography Mátyás Erdély for his work is excellent here, allowing the film, shaky-cam segments aside, to exude that ‘crisp, clear and simple’ approach to imagery classics the genre has employed. The same can be said for Lucas Vidal’s music, pulse-pounding but never overbearing à la Christopher Young’s work on The Grudge 2. Unlike The Woman In Black, attachment to the foreboding surroundings is vague, rendering only a minute of the potential suspense to populate the frame and scary moments useless.
Now I do realize Hammer’s previous production – and in the bigger picture modern horror hits like Drag Me To Hell, Insidious, the first Paranormal Activity, Mama and The Conjuring – has questionable scare tactics too, but before that loud sound is either proper build-up or variety in execution and in turn you are more willing to roll with the ball. That will not be happening in this film as viewers are tied to a plot in which most of the fear is anticipated (mid-experiments) and Philip’s camera. Speaking of the latter, the mix between traditional and found-footage is interesting… but how can you find it so when your attention is fully on the film’s failure to horrify?
But let’s look on the bright side that is the acting. Jared Harris (AMC’s Mad Men), with perfect command over voice and posture, will definitely convince you as a scholar relentless in his pursuit of understanding the supernatural as an illness and, consequently, finding a cure for it. If you, like I do, believe that he was the perfect Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes sequel, you will find Harris again in top form here – also a professor (the intimidating type) but less heartless and more layered. Sam Claflin, after his notable performance as Finnick Odair in Catching Fire, is incredibly believable as the wide-eyed cameraman and the one who cares about the well-being of the test subject. Speaking of the test subject, Olivia Cooke (A&E’s Bates Motel) is the star of The Quiet Ones, skillfully treading the fine line between innocence and dangerous; at times a girl needs caring and others a siren of the extremely threatening kind.
On the subject of threatening, there are a few choices in the script by Craig Rosenberg (The Uninvited), Oren Moverman (The Messenger) and director John Pogue himself that are close to unbuckling the whole affair. The first involves the explanation for the source of all the paranormal happenings. I totally believe, with all the themes the film is dealing with, an original, or at least better, reason can be materialized. But with the plot point that we have, the film’s second problem emerges – it leads us down the one road for the only twist possible, resulting in a wrap-up too rushed and neat. Interestingly, the film credits our trio of writers basing the screenplay on another writer, Tom de Ville (short film Corvidae), leading me to suggest the film is the messy result of too many cooks in the kitchen.
Something interesting could have manifested within The Quiet Ones, but the whole show turns out to be a generic but polished mediocrity. Production values are plenty, two scares manage to get me on edge – one features a bath and another has something coming down the stairs – but the lumps are too large and too many. Hammer should look back at its previous film to see why its revival is one we all celebrated and to guide its next productions to follow (or one-up) the good things in modern horror films, basically no more The Quiet Ones in their slate. Keep this one muted, people.