The Quiet Ones is uninspired even by contemporary horror standards — which comes as a bit of a shock, given its pedigree. It’s a new production from Hammer Films, the once-legendary horror outfit that produced such classics as Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed and Dracula Has Risen From the Grave. After a long-dormant period, Hammer has itself recently risen from the grave, with such excellent chillers as Let Me In and The Woman in Black helping to reestablish its name. But this demonic possession story is at times so lame it makes the last Paranormal Activity flick look like a masterpiece.
The story, ostensibly “based on actual events,” is set in 1972 (not long after Hammer’s golden period, ironically enough), as young local cameraman Brian (Sam Claflin) is recruited to film Oxford professor Joseph Coupland’s (Jared Harris) investigations into the paranormal activities of a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Also joining them are two golden-haired students and lovers, Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne). Jane claims to be possessed by a spirit named Evie, but Coupland is a classic skeptic. He’s convinced that the assorted creepy goings-on around the girl aren’t the result of anything supernatural, but rather evidence of the power of her mind. He even has an explanation for the giant flaming blood tongue thing that shoots out of her mouth at one point.
To try to study Jane and also, supposedly, to cure her, Coupland keeps her in a locked room in a creepy mansion, where Jane does creepy things like stand there silently and OH MY GOD WHAT WAS THAT SOUND!?
Nothing. That sound was nothing. It was just director John Pogue (or his editor, or his sound editor, or his producer, or someone) adding a completely gratuitous jump scare to fool you into thinking that something frightening — or even interesting — has happened. In fact, half the jump scares in the film aren’t even jump scares; they’re short, sharp, loud sound blasts that seem to have been randomly, liberally placed throughout the film. That we recoil from sudden loud noises is a physical phenomenon; it has nothing to do with artistry or cleverness. It’s the most transparently manipulative of devices, used in the most transparently manipulative of ways.
When horror movies overindulge in such cheap tricks, it’s usually a sign that they’ve run out of ideas. But The Quiet Ones doesn’t seem to have had any ideas to begin with. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that transplanting a found footage movie to 1972, with its cumbersome 16mm cameras, was a novel concept. But they don’t exactly do anything with that idea; it might as well be an iPhone that Brian is shooting on.
We never really get a read on any of the characters, either. Brian is a cypher, and the two student researchers joining Coupland, despite being involved in a love triangle, don’t do anything other than stand around looking pretty and, occasionally, shouting. For his part, Harris gets some good lines in as the flamboyant, twisted man of science. (“The psychic floodgates have opened and we are driving through!”) But his character reveals are also telegraphed far, far in advance. And so, to fill the vast emptiness at the heart of this film, the fake “shocks” come early and often, and never let up. Might you be “scared” by The Quiet Ones? Maybe. As noted, it’s hard not to be jolted at least a little by such gimmicks. But don’t be surprised if you hate yourself for it, too.