Every horror fan should know Hammer. For those not in the know, Hammer Films has a long and fruitful history of classic horror films that acted as darker, bloodier and more adult takes on the famous Universal Monsters, among other projects. Many of these films hold up fairly well even today, in my opinion, and are definitely worth watching. Plus, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Christopher Lee as Dracula are awesome. However, after a steady decline and the failure of the 1979 film, The Lady Vanishes, resulting in a near bankruptcy, Hammer Films essentially laid dormant for years. It wasn’t until 2008 with the release of Beyond the Rave did Hammer finally make a return. They continued their revival by getting behind films like Let Me In, The Resident and Wake the Wood. However, in 2012, Hammer had an unexpected success with the The Woman in Black. The film wasn’t great, but it was good and it had an old school look, with a very creepy atmosphere. It doesn’t quite live up to Hammer’s older productions, but it was a solid, if uneven, return to form for the company. As their follow-up, Hammer has now released The Quiet Ones.
The Quiet Ones, supposedly “based on a true story” of the Phillip Experiment, follows a college student, Brian McNeil (Sam Clafin), who joins fellow students Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) in an experiment headed by a morally ambiguous university professor, Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris). The experiment involves Joseph trying to cure Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a mentally-ill young woman who he is using to prove that the supernatural is just manifestations of the mind. As the experiment continues, the group finds themselves dealing with something that is much more dangerous than they could have possible imagined.
I can confidently say that if you did not like The Woman in Black and thought that the jump scares in that film were obnoxious, then stay far away from The Quiet Ones. Unfortunately, all the “scares” in the film are reduced to being annoying and occasionally false jump scares that come with a headache-inducing musical sting that’s so loud that it forced me to cover my ears for a vast majority of the film. At least The Woman in Black had a creepy atmosphere that supported the jump scares, even at their most indulgent, but The Quiet Ones has no atmosphere, no sense of dread and it has nothing interesting going for it.
If you take the jump scares out of it, the film as a whole, is actually not terrible. However, it’s still not good. The film moves at a snail’s pace, but not in an intense, slow burn kind of way. It goes scene by scene with the characters plodding by with unclear motivations and little to no development. The characters are mostly flat and unmemorable. The story also has several plot threads that go nowhere. For example, there’s a scene where Brian sees Joseph and Krissi (who is with Harry) kissing. You would think that this scene would have some sort of payoff, or that the characters would find some way to deal with it, but nothing comes out of it. The only thing that I could possible imagine as the payoff to that scene was later when Krissi seems to get jealous after seeing Joseph consoling Jane, so she gets mad and leaves (but then comes back anyway). The writing overall is very dull, and doesn’t seem to take full advantage of what seems like an interesting setup.
Going along with the lack of atmosphere, the film also lacks any suspense or tension. Even during moments where I felt like I should have been on the edge of my seat, all I did was sit back and cover my ears, getting ready for the loud noises to come. There is just never any proper build up and, as a result, the only payoffs you get are uninspired blasts of loud noises that come and go, leaving no impact whatsoever. Also, there is some terrible CGI in the film, and when I say terrible, I mean Asylum-level terrible. They take you completely out of the film and since they happen at pivotal moments, the effect on the audience is greatly reduced.
Now, the film isn’t all bad. The acting overall is good. Jared Harris is legitimately great in the role of the professor and has the same kind of elegant presence that someone like Peter Cushing had in the older Hammer films. He also has the best line in the film, which I can’t say, since it is kind of spoiler-y. Olivia Cooke is quite good as Jane. She sells the look of a character that is depressed and mentally disturbed, while also being sympathetic. Sam Clafin is solid as Brian; however, he is not dealing with the best material, since his character comes across as too passive to make a lasting impression. Another aspect that shines is the production design. The details in the film’s sets and locations really sell the 70’s setting with a sense of authenticity.
Oh, and quick thing I need to mention. During the credits, they show pictures of what seem to be the real life equivalent of the characters in the film. With one photo in particular begin from a moment straight out of the film. With some research, I found out that the picture is a complete, 100% fake. Those are actors meant to make it seem like the characters in the film. Look, I know a lot of people roll their eyes at horror films that say they’re based on true events. It is a gimmick, but it’s a gimmick that I personally like, since I’m genuinely fascinated with these kinds of stories that people supposedly experience. I also get that a film is not supposed to be completely true to life, which would be absurd for any film. But, if a film is going to go out of its way to try and convince me that something as ridiculous as the events of this film actually happened by faking vintage pictures, I find that insulting.
The Quiet Ones is by no means the worst horror I’ve seen in recent memory, but it is still a disappointing turn from Hammer. Good acting and production design may make the movie more tolerable, but they don’t make up for the unearned jump scares, passive characters and unfocused narrative structure. It’s a shame, since this story could provide for some interesting insight and solid creeps if the film focused on the psychological and ethical aspects of the experiments. I admire its ambition in creating an old school, 70’s style horror, but unfortunately, it substitutes mood and atmosphere for all the worst elements of modern horror.
Side Note: Needless to say, Hammer’s return is a mixed bag. But they seem to be returning to one of their stronger ones by announcing a sequel to The Woman in Black. It will be called The Woman in Black: Angels of Death. It seems to be unrelated to the previous film, since this one will have Jeremy Irvine playing the lead. The script will be written by Jon Croker, with the original novel’s author, Susan Hill, helping develop the story. It will be directed by Tom Harper and is currently being filmed, with an estimated early 2015 release.