The recent resurrection of the historical Hammer Films studio was, of course, cause for much celebration among horror fans around the world. The British production company built a name for itself in horror in the 1960s and it's been great to have them back. (You don't have to bother with The Resident, but Hammer productions Wake Wood, Let Me In, and The Woman in Black are all worthwhile horror films.) The company's latest offering is, at best, a mixed bag. The Quiet Ones aims to combine an effectively creepy story set in 1974 with a bunch of "found footage" footage that serves no real purpose.
The plot is pure, simple Hammer stuff: a dedicated but plainly obsessed university professor (the great Jared Harris) and his two graduate students welcome the arrival of a new cameraman (Sam Claflin) who will document their work. And as poor Brian McNeil quickly discovers, the trio's work involves a supremely unhinged young woman (Olivia Cooke) who may posses telekinetic powers -- or she may simply be possessed. Once the professor loses his university funding (aka once Act I draws to an obvious close), the small group of researchers head off to an isolated estate -- because that's where cruel and disturbing human experiments should always take place.
Not surprisingly, the "traditional" horror story is pretty interesting, but when The Quiet Ones switches over to the first-person cameraman perspective, director John Pogue seems to lose interest. It doesn't help that the screenplay warranted rewrites from guys like Craig Rosenberg (After the Sunset), Oren Moverman (Rampart), and director John Pogue (Ghost Ship), whereas the guy who wrote the first draft (Tom De Ville) is now remanded to a "based on a screenplay by," credit. Four writers on a horror film in which very little happens is indicative of some serious production issues. Not surprisingly, the Quiet Ones' screenplay is the film's weakest asset.
Clearly the victim of not only numerous rewrites but also some excessive editing sessions, The Quiet Ones possesses way too many quality assets to dismiss the film outright -- yet one can't help but think that a great cast, a gloomy atmosphere, and a few legitimately creepy ideas have been halfway squandered in a film that also displays several slow spots, a handful of plot holes, and an irritating over-reliance on fake scares. (For a quiet movie, The Quiet Ones sure does love its "loud shock" gags.)
Hammer deserves firm credit for producing calm, refined, and relatively mature horror films in a marketplace that generally favors mindless splatter sequels over all else, but their latest film seems like too many chefs working what should be a really basic recipe. To its sincere credit, when The Quiet Ones sticks to its traditional 1974 framework, there's more than enough dark charm to keep the flick moving -- but every time it flips back to the 1974 version of "found footage," we lose a good deal of steam.
The movie's coolest idea -- the ghosts are nothing more than telekinetic behavior from people who don't realize they have extra-sensory powers -- is touched on here and there, but ultimately dropped in favor of a confused and conventional third act. Based solely on the film's strongest assets (the performances by Harris, Cooke, and Claflin; some very well-framed moments of ominous portent; several random bits and pieces), The Quiet Ones would make for a perfectly serviceable Saturday night cable movie for people who kind of like horror movies -- but don't really watch all that many. To the hardcore horror nuts, it's a rental, at best. Decent moments throughout, but the end result is an oddly forgettable film.