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The Quiet Ones

April 25, 2014
The Quiet Ones

There’s a fair amount going for The Quiet Ones: a decent cast, an interesting premise, and Hammer Films did a pretty good job with The Woman in Black. And yet it just doesn’t quite get there in the final cut. It runs short on story, long on cheap jump-scares, and generally feels like a triumph of style over substance.

The film is supposedly “inspired by true events” — a conceit it plays right down to the closing montage of “real pictures” next to stills of the cast — but there’s no press or promotional coverage that seems to actually point to the underlying true story. The Conjuring made similar claims, but at least Ed and Lorraine Warren are real, identified paranormal investigators. As far as I can tell, this is just more window-dressing reaching for unearned points.

As in The Conjuring, it’s the 1970s. Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is a parapsychologist working at Oxford. His working theory is that paranormal poltergeist-style events are actually psychic manifestations of mental illness. Not only does this provide him an explanation, but it also indicates a route to curing the patients: push them until their illness manifests, isolate the manifestation away from the patient, and destroy it. At least, that’s what I think the idea is; it’s not exactly clear.

To this end, Coupland finds Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a suicidal young woman. He hires students Kristina (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) as research assistants, and the interested local Brian (Sam Claflin) as the project’s documentarian to film it all. They keep Jane awake and her manifestations under control by blasting “Cum on Feel the Noize” and “Telegram Sam” until the local noise complaints lead to the university cutting the project’s funding, forcing them to relocate to a shabby, isolated house out in the country.

Joseph’s plan seems haphazard at best, and as time goes on the whole thing looks more and more like a terrible idea. Harry is more concerned about bedding Kristina, and she’s only too happy to comply when she’s not busy flirting with Joseph. Despite the superficial concern for documentation, there’s little to no care for experimental methods or controls — ironically the dreamlike Oculus does a better job of showing how to document an experiment. But this is less a complaint about the story as it is an indicator of Joseph’s character, which Harris plays out perfectly from smugly superior to increasingly unhinged in his own delightful way.

But building up the actual story behind Jane’s troubles mostly takes a back seat to jump-scares, most of them fake-outs. There’s scene after scene packed with bumps in the night, but little actual progress. Every so often the filmmakers seem to realize that they’re getting stagnant, and they hastily arrange a block of exposition. The plot moves along in fits and starts the whole time, and the big reveals towards the end have nowhere near the groundwork laid that they need in order to work.

The movie is “based on the screenplay by” Tom de Ville, with the actual script credited to Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, and director John Pogue. It feels like there’s a good horror story underneath all the stylish and “scary” claptrap, but too many writers have had their way with it, sticking in their own ideas of what would look cool, and then it’s all decked out in ’70s costumes and half shot on grainy 16mm stock.

Maybe Hammer Films rushed The Quiet Ones into production after The Conjuring did well with some similar elements, but they somehow lost sight of what makes for a truly effective horror movie: a solid, well-told story, not a bunch of bangs and screaming and shaky camerawork.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: fail.

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