Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) and Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) in The Quiet Ones (Lionsgate)
For almost 60 years(!), British-based production company Hammer has been churning out horror films. Some of them are classics, and some of them are shlock, but all of them share a singular mix of refined Gothic sensibilities and perfunctory shock-scares. After laying dormant for a decade or two, Hammer returned to the scene in a big way in 2011, with the release of the superb The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe. Three years later, the re-emergent horror dynasty followed up that hit with The Quiet Ones.
The film follows a group of students in 1970s Oxford studying paranormal events under the tutelage of the eccentric Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris). Coupland believes that all supernatural phenomena is in fact caused by repressed psychological agitation rather than external spirits. His prime example of this theory is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a young woman with mysterious past trauma who seems to bring otherworldly chaos wherever she goes. Coupland and his sexy charges lock Jane up in a dusty old flat and record her every move with the help of blue-collar cameraman Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin). Soon, Sam falls for Jane and begins to question the morality of the experiment, just as the supernatural events take a darker and more violent turn.
Though The Quiet Ones is nowhere near The Woman in Black in terms of quality, director John Pogue does at least attempt an interesting stylistic blend of found-footage (as seen through the lens of Brian’s grainy 16mm film camera) and typical narrative. Though this mixture sometimes feels distractingly bifurcated, it is nonetheless a bold attempt at meshing Hammer’s classical style with the new “viral” school of horror filmmaking. In addition, Harris delivers a nuanced performance as Professor Coupland, painting him as equal parts stoic and manic as he loses conviction in his pre-ordained ideas about the supernatural. Claflin’s and Cooke’s turns don’t fare quite as well, but they are able to look sufficiently terrified when the film calls for it, and that’s what’s important.
The jump scares may be by the number and the plot might lack spark, but if you’re a fan of the ’50s and ’60s British monster-mashes that Hammer made its name on, you might get just a whiff of that same lovely “dark library on a rainy day” feeling from The Quiet Ones. Unfortunately, the film was an utter flop at the box office, so Hammer’s future remains clouded by doubt. As such, this release may well be your last chance to catch one of their films on DVD and Blu-Ray, so don’t miss out. Special features include a making-of documentary, a visual effects featurette, full audio commentaries and, incongruously, a gag reel.