CAPSULE: The latest release from the new Hammer Films is an obscure horror thriller about a psychiatrist's strange experiment to prove that what appears to be paranormal activity is actually a naturally occurring brain function. The film has some engaging new ideas but suffers from some old ones like that the soul of a horror film is sudden loud noises. Actor Jared Harris has the potential to be the new Hammer's Cushing and Lee. The film is directed by John Pogue and written by four writers (not a good sign), one of which is Pogue. Rating: 0 (-4 to +4) or 4/10
Hammer Films, for those who don't know, was a British production company famous for their horror films in the 1960s and 1970s and has since been revived. Certainly one of the best films of the old Hammer was QUATERMASS AND THE PIT in which a scientist explores a scientific explanation for what are usually considered to be supernatural and paranormal phenomena. Hammer's new film THE QUIET ONES returns to this theme of looking for science at the root of the supernatural.
In a story set something like forty years ago Oxford psychology professor Joseph Coupland (played by Jared Harris, son of Richard Harris and already well-known from "Mad Men") believes that mental illness can be cured and at the same time supernatural phenomena can be explained rationally. Coupland plans an experiment to liberate a mentally ill patient Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) from telekinetic forces in her head. He believes the previously assumed powers can be removed from Jane, curing her illness in the process, if he can rev up those supernatural powers.
When Oxford finds out Coupland is doing these weird experiments he is banished. Not to be thwarted, Coupland finds a suitably creepy old house for his work and continues with a small team of student assistants including a cameraman, Brian (Sam Claflin), to record the work. As Brian compiles a cinematic record of the proceedings he becomes more and more leery of the extreme abuses of apparently willing test subject Jane.
This film has a concept that could make for a very effective horror film, in different ways reminiscent of THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, THE HAUNTING, and PRINCE OF DARKNESS. Sadly the execution becomes badly muddled. Frequently it is not well explained why people are doing what they are doing. Any horror director can rather easily get an audience to jump by having a long quiet section ending in a sudden, loud, sharp bang. But it is a cheap effect, not really what real horror is about. Real horror is chilling, not sudden and done for a physical reaction. Another easy shot is to use a hand- held camera with a lot of shaking. This reaches more for the viewer's stomach than for his mind. Here director John Pogue uses video to simulate a 16mm camera with from the film's 1970s setting, but it is the modern effect of a handheld. Pogue excessively overuses both effects. The darkness of the photography and the frequent bangs and bashes make this film less than totally pleasant to watch, but to Pogue's credit the story pulls the viewer along.
Most of the older Hammer films generally did not waste time establishing that the threat was real. THE DEVIL RIDES OUT, for example, does not slowly establish that Satanism is valid; it pulls the viewer right into the fight against the Devil. THE WITCHES a few years earlier does start from a point of view of skepticism, but it is an exception. Much of the best of the old Hammer films start assuming the supernatural element had been established: Frankenstein, vampires, and the Devil, were all real from the beginnings of their films. THE QUIET ONES starts with a skeptical point of view. Coupland does not believe in the paranormal, just as Quatermass was a skeptic until the paranormal fits his scientific model. Of course Coupland finds more than he bargained for.
Discussion on the Internet of this film is saying that the new Hammer films are just not of the style of the older ones. True, but they have a style of their own. I have seen the three major new Hammer films so far: LET ME IN, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, and now THE QUIET ONES. Each seem to have the subdued feel of a dismal day punctuated by sharp shocks. That is not a bad canvas on which to paint a scary picture. They don't have the blood and the breasts that were a hallmark of later old Hammer, and that omission is all to the good. It still is too early to tell if the new Hammer will be a major force in horror films. But Hammer is already doing far better than the slice, dice, zombies, and sadism films that currently are typical of most horror film. If THE QUIET ONES is not a classic, at least it fails gracefully and the genre is better for its effort. I rate THE QUIET ONES a 0 on the -4 to +4 scale or 4/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2235779/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/the_quiet_ones_2013/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2014 Mark R. Leeper