Ghost stories, they say, are always about history. A lot of the movie business is comforted and prompted by its own back pages. So guess what happens when a historic movie brand makes horror movies.
In the case of the new horror film “The Quiet Ones,” the production company is Hammer. Hammer is a famous British film-making name. Without the makers of “Dracula” and “The Curse of the Werewolf,” would old guys like me have known Christopher Lee (star of their 1957 film “The Curse of Frankenstein”) when he reappeared in the various Lord of the Rings movies? Don’t we owe them something for making “The Mummy” and boosting the career of Peter Cushing?
Hammer made “Hound of the Baskervilles,” “Dracula Has Risen From the Grave,” and a bunch of other modestly-budgeted and gaudily-advertised movies from the 1930s on. They made some non-horror films (Raquel Welch had a hit with them in “One Million Years B.C.”). But they continued to try to scare us, and the revived brand has given us “The Resident” (with Hilary Swank), “Let Me In,” and “The Woman in Black” (with Daniel Radcliff, a sequel to which they are currently filming).
“The Quiet Ones” takes a lot of key Hammer ingredients—pretty girls, an ancient evil, a secluded mansion, flashy insanity, and shame scientific investigation—and blends them with the latest horror film trends.
These trends are devices which make it possible to make movies more cheaply, and so it is no wonder Hammer embraces them. Most of them have to do with point of view—for several years now most horror movies have pretended they were filmed using single, hand-held cameras or (as in the Paranormal Activities series) shots from several cheap, fixed, security cameras.
What director John Pogue has done with this idea is make his point of view character a cameraman whose footage makes up a large minority of the film we see.
The story is set in the early 1970s, originally at Oxford University, and the camera man, Brian, is recruited by a professor of experimental psychology (played by the accomplished Jared Harris) to record a hypnosis- and drug-generated mental breakthrough for a young woman who seems to be possessed by an historic demon.
When first we see the characters, the experiment’s staff engineer Harry is playing Slade’s “Come On, Feel the Noise” (please excuse my spelling) loudly so as to interfere with the subject’s sleep. Love that Noddy Holder. When the university cuts funding for the project, Harry, Brian, and blonde Chrisy go with the professor and his waif patient off to a deserted country house.
There they watch her, occasionally using soft science methods on her and all the while recording magnetic energy waves that seem to become more powerful when little Jane (Olivia Cooke) is riled.
The movie falls into a pattern. From a sort of rest, the action builds with suggested sexual contact, reports of Jane’s and the demons and then of the professor’s histories, team members’ quarrels, and then an outbreak of some sort, with Jane pulling the hair from a doll, digging wounds in her thigh, setting herself on fire, displaying demonic glyphs in the form of wounds, or even disgorging colorful protoplasm.
The events are productive only to the extent that they give the team members time to become emotionally attached to each other and to the patient and to use up all their energy and patience. Then we get major revelations, desertions, reunions, and a couple of conclusions, the second an utter cliché.
I’m not sure the movie is scary. It has moments when viewers are aware of building tension. But probably “The Quiet Ones” will fail to provoke screams of terror from its audiences.
What it does do is reestablish a less style-heavy and distorted point of view mechanism, taking the single camera or closed circuit camera trend on a loop back to the conventional and less distracting methods most non-horror films have never stopped using in telling their stories. For this we can thank “The Quiet Ones.”
Otherwise I’m afraid the movie is only interesting as a Jared Harris outing and as a reminder of the revived pop culture juggernaut, Hammer Films.