The Quiet Ones

By on April 28, 2014

You know, it’s hard out there for a horror fan. A few years back, that wouldn’t have been saying much, but last year was a banner year for horror, the best in ages. Hell, one director alone- James Wan- put out not one, but two first-rate efforts, “The Conjuring” and “Insidious: Chapter 2,” and there were also a wonderful array of smart indies like “You’re Next,” “John Dies at the End” and “We Are Who We Are.” Even the silly stuff like “Bad Milo!” and “Warm Bodies” were a lot of fun, and the more adventurous, if ultimately subpar stuff like “Mama” and “Dark Skies” were at least watchable.

What have we got this year? The likes of “Oculus,” “Devil’s Due” and the latest in the never-ending “Paranormal Activity” series, “The Marked Ones.” When the last one, the fifth installment of the films in question, is the best of the bunch, you’ve know you’ve got problems, and that isn’t even the last of that series this year, as the “official” fifth installment will be hitting theaters in its customary pre-Halloween slot as well. Sure, I’ve no doubt there are some lesser-known horror indies out there on Netflix or Redbox or what have you that I haven’t seen yet, but when it comes to theatrical releases, horror is kind of in the doghouse, which is not what you’d expect at all after the banner year that was 2013.

I had good reason to expect great things from “The Quiet Ones” going in. It’s the latest under the revived Hammer horror banner, with the previous entries being the superlative “Let Me In,” a remake of “Let the Right One In,” which I thought was arguably better than the original; and the excellent gothic ghost story, “The Woman in Black,” with Daniel Radcliffe, aka “Harry Potter” himself. That’s two for two right there, but would “The Quiet Ones” prove that the third time’s the charm?

Well, yes and no. For those who aren’t familiar with Hammer Films, it’s a UK company known for creating some of the most treasured horror movies of all time from about the mid-50’s through to the late 70s. The Christopher Lee “Dracula” films? Hammer. Lee and Hammer also took stabs at “Frankenstein” and “The Mummy” to boot, with all three inspiring multiple sequels, many also featuring Peter Cushing, of “Star Wars” fame, as Doctor Frankenstein. Hammer tackled werewolves (“Curse of the Werewolf”), witches (“The Witches”), the abominable snowman (“The Abominable Snowman of the Himalayas”), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (“The Two Faces of Dr. Jekyll”) and “The Phantom of the Opera,” amongst other prototypical monsters and beasties.

Arguably their most beloved examples of the form, though, came in the 70s, in which, in an attempt to keep trend with the times, Hammer moved in a sexier, more scandalous direction, with its series of erotic vampire films, known as the “Karnstein Trilogy,” based on the classic “Carmilla” story and featuring a female vampire with lesbian tendencies. “The Vampire Lovers” is considered the best of the bunch, but all are worth a look, as are the similarly-sexy “Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde” (in the good doctor becomes a woman after drinking his famous potion) and “Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter” with the sexy scream queen and Bond Girl Caroline Munro.

“The Quiet Ones” is very much in keeping with Hammer tradition, particularly of the 70s variety. There’s an undeniable feel of softly smoldering sexual tension throughout the entire film, as things boil to a head towards the end. Most everyone in the film is attracted to one another and one of the women in the cast sleeps with not one, but two of the guys over the course of the film, which itself takes place in the 70’s, as the Sexual Revolution was reaching its peak. The music is glam rock, with T. Rex and Slade cropping up, while the score leans towards ambient sounds and the abrupt squeals and noises of the old-school tech of the time. (Think David Lynch, particularly something like “Eraserhead.”) And, of course, the fashion and hairstyles are authentically awful, in true 70s fashion.

Last and definitely not least, the feel of the film is very 70s, as the film goes between what we see in “reality” and footage shot by the cameraman hired to document the events at hand, making it sort of a “found footage” film that knows when to say when, thank God. In other words, the film stock looks grainy on purpose, and when crap goes down, more often than not, so does the camera and the film shifts to a more objective viewpoint. All of this is great, and makes the film feel straight out of Hammer’s heyday, especially the ancient technology, which put me in the mind of something like “The Legend of Hell House” or “The Haunting.”

Alas, the story and the gist of the film itself is somewhat lacking overall. I like the idea of a professor who doesn’t believe in ghosts investigating a case that he’s seeking to prove isn’t a haunting at all, but instead an advanced case of mental illness that can be cured by conventional means. All they must do is to do a sort of mental exorcism of the other personality that the subject is displaying in moments of stress, and the patient will be cured, if his theory is correct.

It’s a great set-up, but of course, we already know from the preview that it actually is something paranormal-oriented, and that’s where the film loses its way, and it happens pretty early on. If the film had allowed the viewer to have a little more doubt as to whether the mental illness was real or not, it might have made for some interesting ideas, but “The Quiet Ones” discards that notion practically right out of the box, and the only one still clinging on to the idea that something spooky isn’t happening is the professor, and it’s quite clear that he’s not entirely together himself. (The title refers to the last group of students that participated in his “experiments”- who were never heard from again.)

The invaluable and oh-so-British Jared Harris (“Mad Men”) is great and never less than convincing as the professor who adopts dubious means to his ends, including sleeping with one of his students, burning his subject, and putting everyone in increasingly dangerous, life-threatening positions. He’s like the mad professor instead of the mad scientist of the “Frankenstein” flicks. But you can see the twist about his character coming a mile away, and he’s such an ass to his students (the aforementioned girl has a boyfriend, also in the crew, for instance) that you can’t help but wonder why they continue to participate.

Not helping matters is the mostly ill-defined secondary cast, including “Catching Fire”-star Sam Claflin as the cameraman, Brian, who has a crush on the test subject; tech guy Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne, of “Vampire Academy”); and sexy Krissi (Erin Richards, of the short-lived show “Breaking In”), who’s entire reason for being as a character seems to be to provide every male with sex, save Brian, who she still finds time to flirt with. I suppose the point of Krissi was to provide an example of the advancing sexual mores of the times, but she just comes off like cheap eye candy with no real purpose. I want to say she was a med student, but it’s hard to say for sure, as her character was so underwritten she might as well have been “Victim #” whatever, like in a given slasher flick.

Quiet OnesThe lone exception is the aforementioned test subject, Jane, played by rising starlet Olivia Cooke, currently doing fine work on the television show “Bates Motel,” inspired by the “Psycho” films. In the show, she plays a teen with cystic fibrosis who befriends a young Norman Bates. After a stellar turn on the first season, her character’s been a bit underwritten this time around, but she’s still doing great with the material she has, which included a beautifully-played take on losing your virginity and seizing the moment under tremendously trying circumstances. It’s worth mentioning that I had no idea she was British until I saw her here.

Cooke does gripping, remarkable work in “The Quiet Ones,” too, as she veers from a sweet girl who knows something very real is wrong with her to a raving lunatic liable to stab or choke you to death at a moment’s notice. She has an easy chemistry with Claflin that was among my favorite things in the film, though that latter actor is a bit on the bland side here. (I suppose it’s a step up from his relentlessly douche-y character in “The Hunger Games” sequel, at least.) Unfortunately, the film lets her down.

“The Quiet Ones” isn’t a bad film, and certainly nothing for Hammer to be embarrassed by. They’ve certainly done worse, even in their heyday. For instance, “Shadow of the Cat” is about a killer kitty! (Ironically, the original “Let the Right One In” had a scene with killer cats that was left out of the remake- maybe Hammer learned their lesson with that one.) And the likes of “Prehistoric Women” and “She” are pretty campy stuff, to be sure.

But the best Hammer films had a certain unmistakable quality to them that was undeniable and transporting, like a trip to a bygone era in film form. “The Quiet Ones” nails that sensibility; it just doesn’t do anything interesting with it. Put another way, when the most fascinating thing in your film is old-school tech and the sound design, you’re not doing it right.

There’s nothing in “The Quiet Ones” you haven’t seen a billion times before, sadly, which means the poor year in horror rolls on without a clear winner in sight, save maybe television, where it continues to reign supreme. It’s a C+ at best, but Hammer itself will always rate an A+ in my heart, for what its worth. Better luck next time, guys, but the only thing quiet in this at-times-unbearably loud film will be the viewers watching it.

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About Mark Trammell

Mark Trammell is the resident entertainment critic at UAB, the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where he is also a Graduate Student and does a vid-cast movie review show. He is a life-long fan of films and has a pretty whacked-out, all-over-the-place movie collection that would give most sane people pause. He loves horror movies and Disney flicks and isn't entirely sure there is a difference. He one day hopes to put his money where his mouth is and inflict his own perverse vision on society, entirely so that he can tell people who ask: "If you think you can do better, why don't you make a movie yourself?" to shut up.
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