Hammer Films was and is still revered here in the UK as one of the best horror film studios back in the 1970's and the kings of horror television in the 80's and the success following the production studios rebirth in 2007 was been critically, creatively and financially successful. A close to yearly treat for any horror fan, this time the studio has decided to have a stab at a psychological horror with a professor trying to create his own poltergeist in The Quiet Ones. Hands up any of you who thinks that's a good idea.
Brian (Sam Claflin, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) is attending 1970's Oxford University and is invited to record Professor Copeland's (Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game Of Shadows) controversial psychology experiments. He has a belief that the supernatural does not exist and spooky goings on & strange phenomenons are merely the manifestations of the mentally disturbed. Copeland uses a depressed and trouble young woman called Jane (Olivia Cooke, Bates Motel) to channel her energy in producing a poltergeist creature called Evey which he believes will prove "if you heal one person, you can heal the world" as he contains the 'geist. However, Evey's manifestations grows and grows causing a crisis of morals with those involved on the project.
First of all, Harris is simply perfect for the typical, not evil but righteous in his beliefs English professor. If you're looking at a speed dial of British older villains with an eye on any time period before the 1980's, he's your man. He doesn't have to do a great deal in his performance to get over how dodgy he is with his warped values, pushing mentally troubled people to the limit FOR SCIENCE. Cooke adds to a good resume managing to portray many sides to Jane's frictious character on demand. We go from a warped humour, to the massively sympathetic girl who believes these experiments are for the best for her, to the vessel of some unnatural dark being. She radiates a natural beauty that still manages to shine through, despite the dark nature of the plot. In a thin cast, Clafin is alright as the moral compass Brian, yet he kinda wanders off from a natural character path towards the end whilst Erin Richards (The UK version of Being Human) is merely thrown in for a pretty face and a uneventful love triangle with radio boy Rory Fleck-Byrne and Copeland.
The true horror of The Quiet Ones is established in "the evil that men do" with some tasty themes in science with no morals trying to prove the near unprovable. The amount of horrible events that Jane is put through just to simply prove a point in something that is extremely difficult to depict is unbelievable. The constant experiments, mistreatment and continuous tiring out just to bring Evey to the fore is really tough to watch. And yet, at the same time, you do feel you're wrapped up in Copeland's view that this is essential for science's sake, although we as viewers feel sympathy towards Jane, whilst Copeland barely does. Top level psychology for a horror film and it's so engaging.
The Quiet Ones does allow for horror tropes. Away from the uncomfortable mental torture, there's still time for a fair few jump scares which vary in effectiveness but the hidden highlight is the previously used but still highly effective use of a scene set in a dark attic with no light. Those make me turn into a scaredy cat on a good day. It's made even more effective when characters trip over boxes and heirlooms and curse whilst stumbling around in the dark, setting your nerves on fires. As a mood piece, the 1970's time period not only is a call back to Hammer's heyday but it works as the cutting edge technology is familiar enough to most people nowadays although the "ghost energy" Russian x-ray machine was a bit of a stretch.
In a sea of mediocre "found footage" garbage, The Quiet Ones is an a brilliantly moody horror island and actually has a fair share of shot footage from a video camera from the seventies. Mixed in with clearer, modern camera shot scenes, it creates a cool contrast and adds to the film's scene setting and atmosphere. There's something about the 1970's itself and especially Britain which has an underlying creepiness to it all. Maybe it's just how the world hadn't become cynical to the point where we are at today and the brightness of the future and things like walking your dog on the moon was still a believable idea back then. Whilst not quite done here, Hammer used to pride itself on stories with horror situations set in suburbia like YOUR STREET for example for added effectiveness. The idea this darker side of science takes place at Oxford University plays off that quite well as you can imagine the top levels of education not being against doing some incredibly dickish moves to stay at the forefront of their peers.
What it does so well in creating "it's all in the head" horror is swept away by a few botches. Whilst The Quiet Ones sticks to it's 'less is more' mantra, the burnt boiled arm used in the closing third comes across as damn silly and gives Evey a physical presence which goes against horror film logic in the sense that if you can see the monster, you can know it's rules which dilutes it's effectiveness in trying to scare the bejeezus out of you. The step-by-step instruction manual needed to explain the events of the film is pretty damn boring compared to the original, more interesting premise with science with no limits or morals we get early on in dealing with a self created poltergeist. To be honest, the reveal spoiled the film for me massively and I think alot of people will be left disappointed by it, on top of the film massively running out of steam towards the end.
The 411: I feel like it's a bit of a backhanded compliment by saying The Quiet Ones is not great but it's probably the best horror of the last couple years. Whilst it does do a grand job at delving into "the evil that men do" to aid science and creating a very sympathetic victim, it trashes itself with it's awful delivery of the explanation of the film's events and simply runs itself ragged before the closing stages. Yet, I'm going to be generous because I walked out of the cinema for hope for the horror genre, which I feel like a lot of cinemagoers will agree with and Hammer is simply knocking these not quite out of the park but a fair way past the diamond. Mild to enthusiastic recommendation, depending on your level of horror tolerance.