The Quiet Ones takes place in the year 1974, at Oxford University. Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) recruits Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) – a somewhat-religious introvert who’s interested in film – to document his “experiment”: a study that involves a disturbed young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), whose troubling behavior seems indicative of someone who is demonically possessed. Coupland believes there is a more scientific explanation: that people like Jane can manifest their internal energy in the world around them. Thus, if they channel their negative energy into an object, it can then be destroyed and they may be “cured.”
When the funding for Coupland’s “experiment” to prove this gets cut, he leads his team of student researchers – Brian included – to a secluded house in the countryside, where they may continue their work. However, as the study pushes Jane closer to the brink of insanity – causing even more violently strange phenomena to occur around her – Brian starts to wonder if there are, in fact, supernatural forces at work here – and whether or not Coupland’s intentions truly are as honorable as he claims they are.
The latest horror offering from the revitalized Hammer Film Productions (Let Me In, The Woman in Black), The Quiet Ones is a pastiche of old-fashioned spooky movie tropes and techniques, blended with more currently popular horror stylistic flourishes. Like the study led by Professor Coupland, it’s full of intriguing concepts and potential, but by the end much of that promise goes unfulfilled – with the film as a whole nearly sliding off the rails in the process.
Large chunks of The Quiet Ones feel like a modern found-footage horror film set in the 1970s, while other scenes rely on minimalistic scary filmmaking tricks. The movie often cuts back and forth between grainy footage captured by Brian and material shot in a traditional style, which allows Quiet Ones to imitate visuals and iconic sequences from vintage horror titles (The Exorcist, which is directly referenced by the characters) as well as contemporary low-budget releases like the Paranormal Activity series – without completely feeling like a flavorless rehash, that is. Unfortunately, this approach causes the sparse uses of CGI to stand out badly; worse, the film only delivers surface-level jolts through easy jump scares (prolonged silence followed by sudden violence/noise) instead of building a palpable atmosphere of dread.
Part of the blame for that also goes to the script, which was co-written by the film’s director, John Pogue (Quarantine 2: Terminal). Tom de Ville’s original Quiet Ones screenplay – supposedly “inspired by true events” – was rewritten by Pogue, as well as Oren Moverman (Rampart) and Craig Rosenberg (The Uninvited); that being the case, this feels like an example of too many cooks spoiling the broth. While the movie’s third act brings its fair share of telegraphed plot twists (which are fairly easy to guess if you know your outdated horror movie tropes), arguably the bigger problem here is that the story elements never form a coherent subtext. There are several cool ideas at work here, but they just never get properly developed (Brian’s test of faith, Coupland’s team having a cult mentality, how “the experiment” parallels occult rituals, etc.).
The leading performances by Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows) and Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel) are, in many ways, more captivating and unnerving than anything else in The Quiet Ones. Harris brings out the layers of Professor Coupland’s personality in a way that frequently leaves you wondering if there’s a sinister menace lurking beneath his sophisticated exterior. Likewise, for most of the film, it’s difficult to pin down whether Cooke as Jane is an innocent, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or maybe something in between. On the other hand, Sam Claflin as Brian doesn’t leave much of an impression, while the other members of Coupland’s team – boyish Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and free-spirited Krissi (Erin Richards) – never evolve beyond anything more than standard archetypes.
On the whole, though, The Quiet Ones isn’t a terrible film – just a hodgepodge of retro and modern horror elements that isn’t all that memorable. Moviegoers who have a strong hankering for a horror show that’s heavier on creating mood and delivering less-gory scares – elevated partially by some impressive lead acting – may still want to give this one a look in theaters; everyone else, though, is fine saving this one for when they can puzzle over Coupland’s peculiar “experiment” at home.
If you’re still on the fence about The Quiet Ones, check out the trailer below:
The Quiet Ones is 98 minutes long and Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, sexual content, thematic material, language, and smoking throughout. Now playing in U.S. theaters.