11 April 2014


Far from feeling impatient about the two-year wait between films, it should be an encouraging sign that Hammer Studios have taken so long between The Woman In Black, which was their first major box office success of the 21st century, and their latest feature, The Quiet Ones. Furthermore, it's very interesting that they've gone with the kind of premise that wouldn't have been out of place between their more recognisable, better remembered monster features, rather than straight into a Woman In Black sequel (which is actually due next February.)

This fits more squarely in the non-literary sub-genre of scientific follies, with Jared Harris standing in for the likes of Robert Powell as the science-y type- no Dr. Frankenstein here, thank you very much. Harris plays Professor Coupland, a university professor with some radical theories about paranormal activity. Set in the 1970s, the film follows his efforts to prove these theories by invoking a demonic spirit called Evey in a disturbed patient, and hoping to prove that there are no ghosts other than those we manifest by ourselves. This works about as well as you would expect, especially after Coupland takes his patient and a bunch of students out to a big house in the middle of nowhere.

Having courted the 12A audience last time around, (with mixed results) this one's also a step towards darker territory, in which the threat is more mischievously ambiguous than the howling ghostliness that suffused The Woman In Black from the off. It almost errs on the side of science fiction, insofar as depicting a professor who's so determined to prove his rational theories about possession, he's willing to fudge the calculations and act quite irrationally. In short, he's not the kind of person you'd want on your side in a haunted house situation.

But Harris gives enough credit to the method in the character's madness to keep the mystery ticking over. As an actor, this kind of character fits him like a glove, at once charismatic and obsessive, even while decrying the platitudes that lead people to faith in religion, because they're not his own brand of bunkum. His patient, Jane, (brought hauntingly to life by Olivia Cooke) endures a whole load of what anyone else would call torture in the name of his experiment. She sustains a number of injuries, endures extensive interrogation, and has Slade's "Come On Feel The Noize" blasted at her on a loop for hours on end, all in the name of science.

Sam Claflin plays the film's protagonist, Brian the cameraman, who is enlisted by Coupland to document his experiments. But as he points out early on, nobody in the scientific community would necessarily accept any of the footage as proof, and he and the professor's fanatical followers/assistants, played by Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne, gradually come around to realising that he needs to prove it for his own ego more than anything else. This, in turn, only exacerbates the consequences of his romping in-correctness about the true nature of Jane's mania.

The small ensemble works well together, and Claflin is better here than in his previous "nice, but dim" roles in the likes of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Snow White & The Huntsman, but they're all somewhat undermined by the film's creative approach. As it turns out, director John Pogue is just as complacent as Professor Coupland, in fudging his working out as a means to an end. The film is terribly edited, and never once goes for the more psychological scare, when an abrupt scene transition will do.

It's probably still a better horror film than The Woman In Black, if only because it's grounded in an actual plot, rather than scheduling the scares for Daniel Radcliffe to walk into as he wanders up and down stairs. But the jump scares are clearly the main thing that they've taken away from the success of The Woman In Black, and the result is so circumspect, peppering the "quiet, quiet, BANG" structure with swearing and shagging to emphasise that this is for a 15 certificate audience, that it lets all the real scary out with the very first use of Brian's hands as a clapperboard at the beginning of a scene- a device which gets really old, really fast.

On the evidence of The Quiet Ones, maybe it's a good thing that Hammer isn't churning out these movies to capitalise on its big moment with The Woman In Black. With the great cast, and the thoughtful idea at the centre of the script, this could have been a really effective chiller. The script has a paranoid, ambiguous through-line, but as soon as the director and the editor start trying to jolt the audience out of their seats, the finished film feels like it's constantly scrambling to recover that. Hammer's brand has so much potential for a revival in the saturated horror genre market, but this doesn't bear up anything like as well as I'd hoped.

The Quiet Ones is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen The Quiet Ones, why not share your comments below? I'm not sure why they deviated so far from the true story that inspired this script either- any suggestions?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch

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