The Quiet Ones – those who have witnessed the unexplainable, the possibly supernatural, and are rendered speechless beyond logical response. Psychologists, men of scholar, can remain calm behind a wall of reason, pointing to mental manifestations, emotional sickness, and events that can be controlled, but the quiet ones refuse to let the unknown be contained by theories and experiments. Scientists will burn the world down in their quest for knowledge and answers, but sometimes the most preposterous summation begs more attention than the conclusion within safe grasping distance, especially when dealing with demons, possessions, or paranoias thought to be nothing but campfire stories. The quiet ones embrace fear, humility and acceptance, while arrogant intellectuals bullishly disregard methods without proof – a confident practice that many knowledgeable minds may discount after watching Hammer’s latest haunted story.
Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is a heralded university professor looking to break the boundaries of psychological research. Aided by two of his students, Coupland currently has an experiment under way, one that might save the life of young Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) if successfully carried out. Jane appears to be followed by some entity, a dead girl, but Coupland wants to prove that no supernatural forces exist and that Harper created the entity through her own negative experiences. Needing documentation, the professor hires Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) to record the experiment as it plays out, warning that Harper’s condition is a confusing and intimidating one. When the university cuts Coupland’s funding, he’s forced to find an empty house suitable for his team’s research, but as Jane’s situation only worsens, everyone starts to question their safety. Challenging every shred of rationality once held by our team, they begin to wonder if demonic forces can really be at play, an answer that some might not want to hear.
I’ll admit that I was nervous to hear John Pogue would be directing this spooky ghost story, because his only other effort behind the camera was Quarantine 2: Terminal – a repetitive mess that somehow made Quarantine watchable. Ditching zombies for the occult paid off for Pogue and Hammer Films though, as they’ve successfully blended 70s “found footage” with a very Gothic UK horror vibe. Don’t worry, we’re not overburdened by grainy camera images thanks to time-period filmmaking, but the blurry film and bulky camera do set a chilling mood to Jane Harper’s case, one without constant gadgetry and computer programs. Pogue strikes a nice balance between first and third person filmmaking, utilizing each method of presentation to focus on different and fulfilling scares – creating a tense, sometimes relentless atmosphere that yields anxiety and anticipation.
The Quiet Ones poses brilliant questions surrounding ghosts and the supernatural, because we get input from skeptics and believers alike. Harris’ character Coupland doesn’t balk in the face of otherworldly forces, simply writing them off as mental creations that can be destroyed with man’s cognitive strengths. Everything can be reasoned, even a powerful case such as Jane Harper’s, and despite witnessing floating projective goo and fire-on-command, Coupland remains inquisitive, fearless, and thought-provoking. Of course, one can also analyze the flip side of Coupland, because his mindset may be the most terrified of all – refusing to accept something that defies all possible Earthly logic. Coming from a film critic who isn’t quite sure about his stance on the supernatural, Coupland’s scholarly ignorance becomes entrancing, as even the most studied non-believers surely can’t ignore so much visual evidence.
Not every horror fan is searching for an intellectually bubbly watch though, and this is where The Quiet Ones loses traction. Mirroring films like The Woman In Black, and any other antique possession story for that matter, Pogue and his writing team (Oren Moverman and Craig Rosenberg) rarely establish their own footing, falling simply into religious/cultist horror tropes utilized time and time again. Thumps on walls, self-opening doors, people being thrown by invisible forces, and dickish jokers who throw in cheap scares for a laugh – we’ve seen it all before, but there’s hope! Pogue’s saving grace is a short, punchy ending seething true terror (but was I the only one who found far too many comparisons to Fede Alvarez’s Evil Dead storyline?)
Jared Harris’ regal presence leads a cast of transformed period characters who lap up atmosphere scares throughout The Quiet Ones, while Olivia Cooke truly impresses as our scorned subject Jane Harper. Sam Claflin plays the squeaky-clean cinematographer capturing Coupland’s wild experiment, and it’s his conflicting morals that further a mutiny of sorts when Claflin’s character is the only one willing to acknowledge that supernatural forces could be at play – hinted at by a cross he continually wears around his neck and holds close. Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne round out our cast as Coupland’s somewhat loyal accomplices, but The Quiet Ones benefits from a strong group of characters who exude a feeling of mounting danger and inherent horror.
The Quiet Ones is a thinking man’s horror movie, a dry, somewhat lukewarm tale gussied up by Pogue’s “found footage” segments and acceptable acting that saves audiences from what could have been a ghastly affair. While maybe not the showstopper that Hammer and Lionsgate hoped for, Jane Harper’s case will raise hairs, jolt some scares, and leave a lingering sense of uncertainty in doubters of the satanic. Horror fans will get their thrills, screams will be shared, and while Pogue’s latest doesn’t demand repeat viewing like superior genre films do, you can still take solace in this serviceably scary watch.
What The Quiet Ones lacks in originality is made up in style points, mixing period-piece found footage with an eerie atmosphere that refuses to let audiences catch their breath.