All the elements are there in “The Quiet Ones” to make it a strong horror film. The movie that opened on Friday, April 25, has some terrific actors, a good feel for the 70’s period it takes place in, and a story chock full of demon possession and cults. Yet it never comes together to be truly frightening or entertaining. In fact, it lurches from one noisy scene that goes nowhere to the next. It should be disquieting. Instead, it’s one of the more irritating horror films to come along in some time.
Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) plays Professor Coupland, an Oxford professor out to disprove the supernatural. Olivia Cooke (“Bates Motel”) is Jane, a young woman he’s rescued from a sanitarium to prove that her personality disorder is not demonic possession. The struggle between his pragmatism and her supernatural state should make for a riveting thriller. Add two trysting British college students as assistants, and a naïve cameraman to film the experiments, and you’ve got a good set-up for shenanigans. But it all goes nowhere.
Harris and Cooke are both marvelous actors, but they’re given precious little to do here. His Coupland merely chain-smokes and explains away every tantrum, odd voice, and telekinetic demonstration Jane conjures. And his subject is one of the most boring satanic conduits ever. She’s a rather plain Jane, alternating between being psychotic one moment and then a fatigued teen the next.
Coupland’s students come off even worse. They’re barely one-note clichés. The blonde Krissi (Erin Richards) is established as a saucy tart and little more. Her boyfriend Harry (Roy Fleck-Byrne) is a dim hunk. He’s so dim that he can’t see that Krissi is sleeping with Coupland too. He’s exactly the wrong guy to have monitoring the subtleties of possible possession.
Worst of all is Brian (Sam Claflin), the student hired to film it all. Brian is hopelessly naïve, constantly doubting what he’s seeing and stumbling around like an oaf, clumsily trying to confront Coupland in defense of Jane. He’s such a lumbering doofus, he utterly fails as our audience conduit. We can see Jane conjure fire, vomit serpents and send objects flying across the room, and he’s filming it all. But he thinks it’s a magician’s trick. Are we in Vegas or Oxford here?
And Brian has a schoolboy crush on Jane, but it’s barely of even the adolescent kind. We should be rooting for him to rescue her, to be with her, but there’s no energy or pop to his longing and their scenes together drift into a void. Heck, it would be more interesting to see Krissi hook up with Jane. Working her way through all the members in this haunted house would at least be fun to watch.
To top it all off, Brian is also an awful cameraman. His chronicling of the bouts of possession is shot like he’s a drunk with the shakes. I thought the erratic camera style of shooting horror was finally put to rest by the god-awful “Quarantine” in 2008 (http://bit.ly/1mNnDqk), but the filmmakers here are still in love with the stomach-churning technique.
Any time Brian is filming, and we see his POV through the lens, the film is robbed of genuine tension because of his focus problems. He’s spasmodic and jumpy, and thus ruins the clear terror in the séance and possession scenes. Such technique is not even appropriate to the period. Documentaries were all shot rather static back then. Perhaps the cinematographer Matyas Erdely is trying to show off here, or keep it all mysterious, but the effect is one of utter irritation. The nauseating photography takes you right out of the film at the precise moments when we should be the most engaged.
Director John Pogue was a member of a secret society at Oxford, according to his imdb.com page (http://imdb.to/1hCt1vu), but no such genuine intrigue makes it into his film here. Instead, he’s directed a script that feels more like a shallow first draft. There is the hint of cults, and devil worship, but they're mostly dead ends. And perhaps Pogue thought casting tony actors like Harris and Cooke would help class up the proceedings, but his film is not even as good as the B movies that distributor Hammer used to release in the 1960's. (Where is Christopher Lee when you need him?)
And as Jane’s inner demon ‘Evey’ takes over, Pogue ratchets up the noise level to excruciating levels. Every clunk or thud is enhanced with Dolby magnification that pierces the brain, as if the shaky cam and paper thin script weren’t headache-inducing enough. Pogue seems to think that big noises mean big scares, but they’re only cheap ones. We should be terrified by what’s happening to Jane and the others, but it’s all loud, dumb and feckless.
You know something is seriously amiss when a movie's very title isn't even properly explained in the film. But then, everything in “The Quiet Ones” is one big missed opportunity. Even during the end credits, when pictures of the real people the story's supposedly based on are shown, there is no explanation to enhance the pictures. That kind of carelessness furthers the notion to simply ignore this failure and let it quietly disappear from your Cineplex as soon as possible.