British films, cinema, Erin Richards, evil dolls, experiments, film reviews, films, foreign films, ghosts, Hammer, Hammer Films, haunted houses, horror movies, insanity, isolated estates, Jared Harris, John Pogue, Movies, multiple writers, obsession, Olivia Cooke, paranormal investigators, possession, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Sam Claflin, set in the 1970s, The Quiet Ones, twist ending
For old school horror fans, few names bear quite as much weight as Hammer Films. For the uninitiated, Hammer Films was a British production company that specialized in lush horror films that were, by turns, elegant and suitably lurid. From the ’50s all the way through the Swingin’ ’70s, Hammer churned out a fairly staggering amount of stylish films, many of them sequels and offshoots to popular properties like Dracula and Frankenstein. As the times changed, Hammer Films became bloodier and more sexually charged, although they always maintained a least a little of that initial elegance. As the world moved on into the 1980s, however, Hammer’s cachet in the genre dwindled to nothing and the company, essentially, petered out of existence.
Like any good undead monster, however, the Hammer story would also include a bit of reanimation. After lying dormant for decades, Hammer Films was bought-up and the company began to release new films in the mid-2000s. Beginning with Beyond the Rave (2008), Hammer would release a handful of films including the American remake of Let the Right One In, Wake Wood (2011) and The Woman in Black (2012), as well as a sequel in 2015. They would also jump into the currently hot topic of possession stories with The Quiet Ones (2014), which is where we enter this particular tale.
As someone who grew up on Hammer Films, I was pretty excited when they announced a restart to the fabled production company. My one concern, of course, was the same one that I had when Hammer originally petered out: would they have any relevance in a modern world that had long ago left behind the stylish, Gothic trappings of their best films or would they stick out like a septuagenarian at a One Direction concert? My first experience with the “new” Hammer didn’t set the bar very high, as I found Wake Wood to be a marginally entertaining, if massively flawed exercise. Much better was The Woman in Black, which managed to retain much of the old-school Hammer elements (slow-burn horror, stylish production design, mature themes) and used them in service of a pretty good ghost story. As such, I was primed to see where The Quiet Ones would take me: would this be the disappointment of Wake Wood or the pleasant surprise of The Woman in Black?
Taking place in 1974, The Quiet Ones concerns the experiments of one Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris), the kind of driven, obsessive man-of-science that was practically a staple for Hammer back in the day. Coupland is conducting research into the intersection of “faith, superstition and medicine” which, as we all know, is shorthand for “messing around where he doesn’t belong.” Along with his faithful students Brian (Sam Claflin), Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), Coupland seeks to observe actual poltergeist activity in a test subject, with the ultimate goal being to remove said “bad spirits” in a purely scientific manner. The subject, in this case, is Jane (Olivia Cooke), a disturbed young woman who seems to have an unhealthy relationship with a sinister doll named Evie.
After Coupland has his funding pulled by the overly-cautious Oxford University administration, he’s forced to relocate Jane and his team to a secluded, out-of-the-way country estate so that they can continue their experiments. If you guessed that moving the proceedings to a secluded area is a bad idea, go ahead and give yourself that cookie. As strange, unexplained things begin to happen around them, Coupland and his team are quick to realize that they’ve opened a door to a very, very dangerous place. Our obsessed professor has a secret, however, a secret which will threaten not only the team’s collective sanities but their very lives. Who, exactly, is Jane? Is Evie an actual sinister presence, like a demon, or she just a manifestation of Jane’s own damaged, fractured psyche? All these questions and more will be answered as our intrepid heroes discover that, sometimes, the quiet ones are the ones you need to watch out for.
As previously mentioned, my opinion on the “modern” Hammer Films is a little mixed, making The Quiet Ones a bit of a tie-breaker, as it were. In this case, however, the scales have definitely tipped down towards the Wake Wood end of things, rather than the Woman in Black end. Like Wake Wood, The Quiet Ones alternates between measured, stately scares and purely ridiculous moments in an awkward ballet that never seems to come into its own. The initial premise is intriguing and there’s plenty of room for commentary on the obsessive quality of “good” researchers, the horrors of the past, etc etc but a late revelation about the “true” nature of the evil upends the film and turns it into an all-too-familiar possession story without adding anything new to the mix.
For my money, however, The Quiet Ones critical flaw is, ironically, found right there in the title: for a supposedly stately film about “quiet” evil, this film had more excruciatingly loud jump scares than anything I can remember in the near past. This was also an issue with Wake Wood, although not to this extent, while The Woman in Black managed to largely avoid this issue. Here, each and every instance of Evie’s presence is denoted by some sort of blaring loud sound, usually an intensely unpleasant EMF “whine” that’s positively headache inducing. I’m not ashamed to admit that I have a complete and total bias against loud jump scares: call it extreme prejudice, if you will. In this case, The Quiet Ones obnoxious sound design managed to hobble the film before it even made it out of the gate.
Which, in a way, is kind of a shame: there’s a lot to like here, even if nothing is extraordinary or particularly thought-provoking. Harris gives a phenomenal performance as the far beyond driven professor, proving, once again, that he’s an absolute diamond in the rough when it comes to these sorts of films. While none of the other actors have anywhere near Harris’ presence or charisma, they still produce decent enough work, although I can’t shake the feeling that Sam Claflin has to be one of the most generic, vanilla protagonists in some time. The film also blends its found-footage and “traditional” cinematography to good effect, although the film, eventually, devolves into much more of a stereotypical found-footage film, complete with “spooky” things in the background. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the location: the secluded mansion is a masterpiece of set design and any of the film’s genuine frights are to found from the hapless researchers bumbling down its dark halls, ala any number of more traditional Gothic affairs: this is one aspect of the “new” Hammer that most resembles the “old.”
Ultimately, The Quiet Ones was a disappointing film, mostly because there was so much potential here. I’ve yet to see the Woman in Black sequel, so it would be a little silly to make any concrete declarations about the dreadful state of Hammer’s current incarnation. So far, however, suffice to say that I’m somewhat less than impressed. While the new Hammer resembles the old one in some fundamental ways, it also lacks a lot of the original’s soul and spirit. Like any good ghoul, Hammer refuses to stay dead and buried: at this point, however, it’s difficult to determine whether that’s a noble attribute or whether this particular creature needs to be put out of its misery.