The Quiet Ones is a fun, scary, stylish, old-fashioned spook-fest that feels like it could have come from the 1970s. I just wish it hadn’t skimped on the gore, and perhaps had a different ending.
If you are unfamiliar with Hammer, here’s a brief history: Hammer was a British film studio that is best known for its colorful and melodramatic horror films of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The studio lasted through the 1970s, making a long string of a very particular kind of genre film, usually ramping up the blood, gore, and nudity higher than many of their American counterparts. When I use the term “Euroschlock” to describe a movie, I’m usually referring either to Italian zombie films or Hammer Horror.
Hammer shut its doors in 1979 and lay dormant until 2007, when they picked up the mantle again with films like Let Me In and The Woman in Black. Their revival output has been critically spotty to date, but their old-school charms may have just been revived with The Quiet Ones, a tale of possession whose aesthetic, conceits, and effect are all firmly rooted in the 1970s. Recall that The Exorcist came out way back in 1973. The Quiet Ones is not as good as The Exorcist (indeed, few films are), but it takes a few vital filmmaking cues from the myriad Exorcist imitators by focusing on atmosphere, creepy sound design, and a few choice jump scares over mindless and senseless plot machinations.
The movie is based on a true story: It is 1974, and an ambitious professor named Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, playing it perfectly) has an idea. He believes that telekinesis can be scientifically documented, and he has enlisted a trio of students (innocent Sam Clafin, charming Rory Fleck-Byrne, sexpot Erin Richards) to help him study a mentally ill young lady named Jane (Olivia Cook) who claims to be possessed by an evil spirit named Evie. Much of the film is presented from the camera lens of Clafin’s aspiring cinematographer, right down to the era-appropriate film stock. Indeed, when he announces that he needs to switch to a cheaper stock, the image actually degrades a little. That’s a nice detail.
The study (or, as Coupland threateningly refers to it, “The Experiment”) involves badgering Jane, sometimes even physically harming her, to get “Evie” to manifest herself. Pretty soon, walls are banging, and Jane begins displaying bouts of superpowers that prove that she is either a telekinetic who can only manifest her powers through a powerful delusion, or that… well, there might be something actually sinister going on. The three young students become increasingly convinced that evil is afoot (Satanic symbols being showing up), while Coupland continuously insists that there is a perfectly reasonable explanation. A lesson I have learned from horror movies: If you’re ever compelled to ever say the phrase “There must be a perfectly logical, rational, scientific explanation for all this!,” then you are going to be killed by a supernatural entity. There are no two ways about it.
As The Quiet Ones saunters leisurely forward, the characters all become increasingly unbalanced until the inevitable bloodshed. The title refers not to ghosts, but to the students themselves; They are the ones who never talk about what’s going on in that spooky, spooky house into which they were forced to move. Sure, the plot stops for a few segments while we roll around in some wonderfully sharp sound design and a few perhaps-cheap “boo!” moments. But the atmosphere is rich enough that you may remain spooked throughout. I certainly was. And yes, ninny that I am, I jumped a good number of times.
A caveat: The Quiet Ones is yet another horror film rated PG-13, which means it can only hint at some of the more extreme violence, and can only briefly glimpse its own nudity. Not that I’m a bloodthirsty gorehound and prurient pervert that requires wall-to-wall blood and tits, but in a horror film, some blood and sex is appreciated. This is one of those rare cases where the blood and the nudity would have enriched the film.
Rating: 3.5 Burritos