IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 98 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Oxford, 1973. Student Brian MacNeil attends the class of Professor Coupland, who wishes to prove there is no supernatural. He shows a video of a boy obsessively drawing the portrait of a man, seemingly possessed, then explains that more research should be done to find a cure for this kind of disease and that if they can heal one person, they would be able to heal the entire world. Invited to film Coupland’s experiments, Brian encounters his two lovebird assistants Krissi and Harry as well as their experiment subject Jane Harper, a depressed young woman who is usually generally locked in a room with rock music playing very loudly during the daytime. After a disturbing first encounter with her, Brian is left scared but intrigued. Then the experiment funding is cut, and Coupland and his now three assistants leave Oxford to settle in an isolated house in the countryside to keep experimenting on Jane’s case….
The Philip Experiment. It’s certainly a great idea for a horror movie. Back in the 1970s, some Canadian parapsychologists attempted to prove that ghosts were only the creation of the human mind, and that, under the right circumstances, a ghost could be made. They soon began to ‘create’ a ghost called Philip Aylesford. He lived in the 17th century, had a wife, a mistress and suffered a tragic death at the battle of Diddington. Footage of one of the supposed happenings can be viewed on YouTube. Supposedly Phillip made contact by rapping on a table and levitating it, but having watched it, it looks a bit questionable to me. Opinions differ as to whether it was all fabrication or not. Though I do certainly believe in ghosts, I’m quite sceptical about The Philip Experiment. Still, the premise of ghosts being things created by human trauma and rage is a strong one, and should result in a really scary movie….shouldn’t it?
Well The Quiet Ones isn’t it. It’s not actually a bad film. In fact it has some very good things in it, such as the acting which makes the sometimes thinly drawn characters seem like real people, and its most intriguing premise. However, it just doesn’t frighten, and, while I know that different people get scared by different things [folk still look like they’ve seen a ghost when I tell them that The Blair Witch Project didn’t scare me one bit], you can usually tell when you’re sitting in a cinema screen and the majority of the audience are frightened. When a horror movie seems like it’s about to get scary, and then fails to follow through, it’s extremely frustrating. It’s like being led on by a member of the opposite sex. Just think back to Paranormal Activity 4. What an irritating experience that was, though The Quiet Ones is maybe even more exasperating because it seems like it’s going to be a much better movie than Paranormal Activity 4 and not just another sequel hurriedly dashed off to continue a popular franchise. Add a whole load of other flaws such as the whole film seeming very disjointed, so much so that it sometimes seems like scenes have been inserted in the wrong order, and The Quiet Ones becomes a major letdown, especially considering the newly revived Hammer’s films have all been promising and have been getting better and better, so much so that the studio seems to be on the verge of releasing a truly great horror worthy of their classics of old. The Quiet Ones, though, is a major retrograde step.
It’s certainly pretty promising at first, what with its set-up, though it’s soon obvious that they haven’t really used much of the ‘maybe true/ maybe not’ story the film is supposedly based on. The video of the possessed boy drawing the picture of the man had as a real evil charge to it and Jane, the seemingly possessed woman who is the willing subject of Professor Coupland’s experiments, is immediately both creepy and sympathetic, a combination which shouldn’t’ work but which does. When Coupland’s work in the college is stopped and they relocate to one of those big old country houses which can be eerie whether ghosts exist in it or not, The Quiet Ones seems to be working its way up to being a really effective horror movie. However, it doesn’t really follow through on its promise. There are lots of instances where you hear a loud BANG and the camera of Brian, who is filming much of what is happening, waves all over the place, and some occasions where Jane does some uncanny things, like cutting herself and smearing the blood everywhere, plus a silly out of place bit where she reveals a Dead Silence-type long tongue, but the film just seems to sit there and repeat itself. It’s slow, but without enough atmosphere for that to be a good thing, but nor does it seem to build to a higher level of excitement.
Of course there are some very good moments, like a lengthy nocturnal walk through the house where you’ll probably be on edge for quite a while, but oddly enough the best bits are often the quiet ones [sorry], like the brief scenes between Brian and Jane which are touching yet full of tension. Much of the film’s interest is in trying to work out whether Coupland is right in his methods or not, and whether we are seeing properly supernatural events or not. The script does have a few twists and the story certainly ends in an effective fashion, though some bright sparks will probably be able to predict it. The film is awkward in other respects though. Much of it is basically Found Footage, though some of it isn’t – the trouble is, it looks like you’re watching two very different versions of the same film, and towards the end it’s sometimes hard to tell whether we are supposed to be seeing stuff that’s being filmed or not, director John Pogue going in for extreme close-ups and shakycam even if it’s not actually ‘filmed’ footage. The film is jarring in its stylistic differences, but nor does it really make the most of its main setting, the cinematography not really taking advantage and resulting in a film that is rather drab to look that, even if one appreciates that they obviously went for a realistic look.
The film really scores with its performances though. Jared Harris is especially good, making you believe that his character really thinks he’s doing the right thing even when it often seems like he’s really being horrible. Olivia Cooke is also superb as Jane, somehow creating a very compelling portrait of someone who might very well be sane and normal if it wasn’t for the terrible events in her life. Lucas Vidal’s music, often coming off like some deranged satanic techno, is quite disturbing. However Pogue’s dull direction really lets things down, just failing to create the necessary suspense, though the film really is a missed opportunity overall. It should be terrifying. It should be disturbing [for a start it’s partially about a girl being tortured to prove a possibly crackpot theory]. It should be really edge-of-seat, but it’s not any of these things. ~In fact, it’s just a bit drab. There are things in the film to appreciate, and it’s all interesting enough to just about keep the attention and not become actively boring, but while I was watching it, I was constantly thinking of how a much better horror film could be made from the same premise and even portions of the same script, which certainly isn’t a good thing.
The Quiet Ones is not unenjoyable, and me criticising it so heavily is probably partly because I expected so much from it. There are traces of a really strong chiller in there. However, it’s let down by so many things, especially from constantly seeming that it’s holding back. It’s fine for a horror film to not have much blood, or take itself in a leisurely manner, but The Quiet Ones just doesn’t achieve enough despite the many incidents that take place during its running time. It’s simply too tame for a modern horror audience but also lacks the charm, style and fun factor of much old Hammer, and it suffers from both trying to do too much and not succeeding in doing enough at the same time. It’ll certainly pass the time pleasantly, but you could probably take the friend or relative you know who finds horror films too terrifying to enjoy, or who is scared by the very idea of ghosts, and you won’t get any recrimination from them.