Director: John Pogue; Screenwriters: John Pogue, Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman; Starring: Jarred Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards; Running time: 98 minutes; Certification: 15
In this barren spell of horrorless cinema, when the only servings we’ve had in the first quarter of 2014 have been terribly meagre (Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones and better-by-comparison Devil’s Due), it’s easy to jump in excitement at every opportunity to be scared, whether the film in question looks any good or not. Of course, when that film is from horror-giants Hammer, there’s every excuse to be genuinely excited.
The Quiet Ones comes off the back of Daniel Radcliffe’s surprisingly excellent post-Potter chiller The Women In Black, which relaunched the studio back into the stratosphere of quality horror filmmaking thanks to James Watkins’ deft plotting of finely tuned scares. That, of course, was somewhat downplayed by the fact that the director John Pouge’s only other credit was Quarantine 2, but the potential for a rare spook-fest was still very much on the cards.
With its suburban London, historical setting (in this case, the ’70s), the production values and general mise-en-scène label it very blatantly as a Hammer production, but the whole time the film is taking clear notes from others in its genre. The plot plays out a bit like The Exorcist meets The Changeling meets The Haunting – a young, troubled, (perhaps?) possessed young girl; multiple séances; an “expert” in the field gathering a team to help him conduct an experiment. Whether he knows it or not, Jarred Harris is clearly channelling the likes of Vincent Price and Richard Johnson’s work in House On Haunted Hill and The Haunting respectively for his professor who, over the course of the narrative, is perhaps more deranged than first appears.
The blending of 16mm archival hand-cam with traditional cinema quality film to create that old school yet contemporary vibe, if unoriginal, also works rather well, and the creeping, creaky old English manor house in the second and third acts is a suitably spooky setting. All of these strong elements are present, and often work, so why doesn’t the film hold together better? Ultimately, as with so many horror movies, it just doesn’t scare its audience enough. It really is that simple. It’s always essential to craft a good story and characters to give the audience something to care about – all the best horror movies allow us to invest ourselves in whatever plight is afoot – and The Quiet Ones does that very well, but it tends to forsake genuine scares to achieve it. The film works heavily off the jump scare, which, when used sporadically, is effective, but it throws all its eggs it one basket, lacking the invention to spook us in more than one way.
We jump from séance to séance as the team attempts to summon a spirit (or is it?) named Evie, with each and every one ending in a silent…silent…BANG. It works in the moment, but it never stays with us. It never makes our palms sweaty. Never sends that chill up our spines. When it comes down to it, the overriding problem is that there isn’t one good – really good – scare. The Hollywood scare, let’s call it. The scare that stays with you, that people talk about long after. The Exorcist had the spinning head; Psycho had the shower scene; Paranormal Activity had the hallway drag. Whatever you think of those movies, they all had at least one sequence which stayed with us long after. The Quiet Ones spreads itself too thin, mistakenly trying to ration what little macabre it has.
It’s a film which works on many levels, successfully mixing haunted house clichés with a layered, unpredictable plot, but the fact that it doesn’t scare us means it fails on that one fundamental level so desperately vital in the horror genre. The intriguing plot and strong performances make for an interesting watch, but ultimately a forgettable one, which is a real shame. It’s still the best horror movie this year as it stands, of course.