Monday, January 12, 2015

Review: The Quiet Ones (2014)

Back in the day, Hammer Films was an institution, creating a whole raft of horror films (and some others - psychological thrillers and bawdy comedies, mainly) which captured the public imagination and made stars of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Ralph Bates and many others. From my perspective, the films worked as although they were low budget, they made impressive use of Bray House and its surrounding forests and land, and used a company of actors who could be relied upon to deliver. Even the fact that they were very formulaic worked in their favour (how many innkeepers did Michael Ripper play, exactly?*).

Over the years, Hammer fell into the doldrums, and was then bought by enterprising folk who decided to try and revive the film brand ... and THE QUIET ONES is the latest effort from them. What I don't quite understand, though, is why all the things that made the Hammer brand great in the sixties and early seventies are now missing: there's no company of actors involved, no use of the strangely period-free period setting, no mid-European villages which might have been Germanic or Romanian or somewhere like that (of course unspecified), and no strong development of the themes and characters with which they made their name (like Dracula or Frankenstein and his monster, or the Mummy and so on).  Instead we get fairly run of the mill psychological dramas, which owe more to the original Hammer thrillers than to their horror fare.

THE QUIET ONES is about a troubled university professor, Joseph Coupland (well played by Jared Harris, who is the best thing about the film) who believes that a young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) is possessed by some evil demonic entity. So he keeps her locked up and gets a group of students - Brian (Sam Claflin), Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), to help him observe and record the entity. However the university cuts his funding and so they all move to a spooky house (how they pay for this is unsure) to continue their 'work'.  Of course it all ends badly, and the demon is identified and people start dying ...

Creating a new twist on the found footage and paranormal activity genres can be hard, but I liked the underlying ideas here. Good to see Tom deVille, who I know from his days writing the excellent URBAN GOTHIC, as the original screenplay writer here (and he's interviewed on the extras) but less impressed that more writers (Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman) worked on it, and also that the director, John Pogue, is co-credited for the screenplay. It is also said in the making-of documentary that Jared Harris re-wrote his character as well ... and you wonder whether the vision of the original writer was really preserved. I guess that's filmmaking for you ... and no wonder then that the screenplay is a little ragged as a result. There's a whole sexual element which seemed to sit poorly with the horror element - Coupland is having a relationship with Krissi, who is also sleeping with Harry, and Coupland also seems to be also in love with Jane, who is also attracted to Brian, while Brian is attracted to Jane ... all very complicated, and as Jane looks about sixteen, it adds a slightly bad taste to the whole thing.

And don't get me started on the shakeycam. Unfortunately I suffer from slight motion sickness, and these films, with the camera jerking all over the place, are just unwatchable for me. I can't follow the action, and the jerking and movement robs the film of any dramatic tension. Thankfully, the jerkycam sequences are not that frequent here - they come with the conceit that Brian has been asked to film the tests on Jane ... and so he carries his camera about, and we see through its lens at certain points in the action.

As to why it is called THE QUIET ONES ... this term is used once in the film, in relation to Coupland's group of students ... and seems to have no bearing on the demon or anything else that the film is about ... a strange title to use. Especially as the film relies on loud bursts of noise to create scare 'jumps', and is peppered with seventies pop music to ram it's period setting down the audiences' throat!

Overall, the film falls into the 'paranormal' section of viewing, one which has been somewhat overdone of late. It's an adequate example, and aside from Harris' great performance, is very forgettable. I feel it's a great shame that it has a modern (well, 1970s) setting, as if you took the same plot and idea, and instead, based it in Karlsbadt, with maybe Harris as Father Sandor investigating the case of demon possession, then you have something new and original to add to the classic Hammer oevre ... instead of which we have this rather sub-par offering.

No comments: