Movie Review – The Quiet Ones (2014)

The Quiet Ones (2014) is another installment of the Hammer Film Productions revival, coming two years after the generally well-received The Woman in Black (2012). The earlier film dripped with superb sets and exquisite costume designs but was too reliant on jump scares, including those damned fake ones, to be anything truly remarkable for me. What could have been a new tension-filled Gothic classic instead became an incessant assault of things flying at the screen to the point where tension was too often lost. Directed by John Pogue, The Quiet Ones falls into many of the same traps.

The story is set in 1974 where an Oxford professor and three young people set out to use science to help a young woman tormented by what she believes is a spirit. It is loosely based upon the actual 1972 parapsychological Philip experiment which was conducted in Toronto, Canada. Philip was the name of a fictionalized ghost that the researchers sought to manifest by the sheer will of the experiment’s participants, helped by traditional séance conditions. Perhaps not surprisingly, the experiment was considered a failure by critics.

The film is largely seen through the eyes of the working-class local hired to film the girl’s treatments, and so the film continually transitions from traditional narrative to his docu-style footage. Once again, the sets are nicely done and at times the cinematography and lighting is very appealing. Additionally, the acting is good, particularly by Olivia Cooke, who plays the tortured girl. She’s able to transition from menacing to a sweet vulnerability in a convincing manner.

When the film is restrained it excels, but too often it seems to seek to meet a jump scare quota every three minutes. This is often achieved by ratcheting up the volume to an absurd decibel which stops being scary and quickly becomes annoying, making the movie’s title an irritatingly ironic misnomer. Plus, the film’s promising first two acts are squandered on a disappointing ending that is not really worthy of what came before.

I wish that these Hammer films, which show so much potential, would also show more confidence in their craft and allow the audience, meaning us, to immerse ourselves in the film. Instead they keep us at a distance by throwing things in our faces or battering our eardrums. By doing continuous jump scares, whatever tension that was built is immediately lost. Sure, the person watching the movie involuntarily jumped, but a second later they’re laughing and not at all scared.

A jump scare should be earned and it should be a part of the danger, such as in the way James Wan employs them in Insidious (2010). That film has plenty of jump scares but they are always something worth getting scared about. They increase the sense of danger because they are dangerous – they’re not cats or birds or idiot friends bumbling unexpectedly into the camera shot. Anything else is the stuff of amateurs or charlatans, in my opinion, with very few exceptions. It shows a filmmaker who is not confident that they have their audience, or one who is strictly making a film for teens looking for an assault on their senses. Either way, I’d like to see Hammer Film Productions do better, because they keep hinting that they have it in them to do so.

Grade: C