A team of paranormal researchers led by the manipulative Professor Coupland (Harris) mount a controversial experiment in 1974 Oxford. When the university pulls their funding, they continue their work off the books, producing some alarming results.
The latest offering from the modern Hammer is a very different animal from the quietly austere likes of Let Me In and The Woman In Black. The period Oxford setting — along with the title — perhaps sets up an expectation of similarly muted shivers. The Quiet Ones delivers something else.
The story itself is loosely based on the (Canadian) Philip Experiment (also the basis of last year’s hapless The Apparition), in which researchers invented a fictional character and then tried to contact it by séance, achieving some results that gave them the willies. Here, that’s transformed into the Mephistophelian Professor Coupland’s (Jared Harris) obsessive quest to cure experimental subject Jane (Olivia Cooke) of her trying visits from ‘Evie’ (his methods partly involve, for some reason, keeping her awake by constantly blasting Slade). “You’re not possessed; you’re just unwell,” he purrs, as he pursues a lifelong goal delayed by previous collateral damage.
It’s an intriguing set-up, but the film’s problem is the cheap scares that keep getting in the way. John Pogue (who directed the straight-to-video Quarantine 2) elicits strong performances from his cast and conducts impressively lengthy 16mm found-footage sequences, but is less comfortable with people speaking for any length of time. He seems to fear for our attention span, so engineers a boo! moment every few minutes.
A strong scene in an attic with psychic fire and the mysterious burnt outline of an infant in a cot mattress descends into blundering around in the dark and shouting at loud noises. Explanations come in fits and starts, at one point via a shonky Basil Exposition in the Bodleian, raving about the hippy coven at the root of Jane’s problems.
Yet there’s interesting stuff here, in the mad paranormal science deemed reasonably credible 40 years ago and the assumption that telekinesis is empirically acceptable. Paradoxically, those frustratingly regular moments of rattling chaos are also when the film is at its most genuinely unnerving.
Messier than recent Hammer output, but effectively chilling when its not making us feel the noize.