The Quiet Ones (2014)

Hammer Films Finds a Horror Star Worthy of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in Their New British Supernatural Chiller, but does “The Quiet Ones” amount to more than a few Loud Bumps in the Night?

The history of Hammer Horror stretches back over fifty years to films like “The Curse of Frankenstein” (1957) and “The Horror of Dracula” (1958), when the company’s two biggest horror stars, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, along with a bevy of buxom femme fatales, kept audiences in rapt terror with a series of bloody Technicolor fantasies.

The formula served them well for a good fifteen years until “The Exorcist” (1973) put a wooden stake through the heart of the classic horror mold and audience interest in it. Hammer attempted to follow suit with their own R-rated, demonic shocker, “To the Devil a Daughter” (1976), with their biggest star, Christopher Lee at the helm, but the film flopped. It seemed almost quaint in the light of William Friedkin’s game changer and audiences would never be as easy to scare again.

Shortly after, Hammer Films closed its theatrical production department and the company would remain silent for over thirty years until the brand was re-launched recently with “Let Me In” (2010) and “The Woman in Black” (2012). In Daniel Radcliffe (“The Woman in Black”), I thought Hammer was quite successful in finding a leading man with the qualities of a young Peter Cushing, and I think they have been equally successful with the casting of Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) in “The Quiet Ones.”

Harris has all the qualities of intelligence and British charm that Lee and Cushing exuded combined with an ability to appear both sincere and sinister at the same time. It’s Harris’ performance that mostly carries “The Quiet Ones” from the opening frame to its chaotic climax; no matter what else works or doesn’t work in this tale of supernatural evil and madness, Harris is never less than gripping.

Harris plays Dr. Joseph Coupland, an Oxford Professor whose current research is devoted to the attempt to cure the mentally ill, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), who believes she is possessed by a ghostly, possibly demonic, entity. Coupland believes that all supernatural phenomenon is merely a physical manifestation of mental trauma, and if it can be manifested in the physical world then it can be removed like a cancer from the body and ultimately destroyed.

Based on true events, “The Quiet Ones” is period set in 1974, and the film is evocative of both the time period and horror movies from that time. When Coupland’s research grant is pulled over his questionable methods (Does forcing a mental patient to listen to Slade’sCum on Feel the Noize” at full volume all day long really seem like ethical treatment?) and he is summarily dismissed from Oxford, he brings Jane and his three research assistants to a creepy Gothic manor house in the country to continue with his experiments.

Young Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) is brought along as a cameraman to document the research in an attempt to capture any paranormal activity. Through this plot device, the film switches occasionally to the now overly familiar (and thoroughly modern) “found footage” camera vantage. Although I was at first concerned that this switching of cinematic points of view would disrupt both the pace and overall style of the film, I must credit director John Pogue for making every transition completely seamless and seemingly natural.

All of the elements that made vintage Hammer films unique are present; strong psycho-sexual undertones, supernatural evil, creepy locations that provide sinister atmosphere and the occasional bloody death scene. Unfortunately, “The Quiet Ones” isn’t content to build a quiet and unsettling layer of suspense, but instead relies almost exclusively on extremely loud bursts of noise to generate its scares.

All of these sonic “stingers” coming from every channel of the films’ surround soundtrack have the desired effect of jarring the nerves, and would be a welcome “boo factor” bonus if the film had any other tricks up its sleeve. Sadly, however, “The Quiet Ones” isn’t quite able to stick the landing, and it more or less unravels in an unsatisfying climax. Lots of stuff gets thrown into the blender in the last 20 minutes: arcane symbols, Satanic cults, demons and secret motivations revealed. None of it really has the intended impact.

“The Quiet Ones” isn’t a bad film, just a slightly underwhelming one, but there is much to enjoy along the way before it finally runs out of steam, especially the note perfect, Hammer-style performance of Jared Harris. It’s a serviceable supernatural thriller, but it’s not on the level of the excellent, “The Woman in Black” or the also quite good, “Let Me In.” Still, it’s a kick seeing the HAMMER logo open a film in the theater, as I grew up watching most of their classic films on television.

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