It feels as though we’ve been waiting a long time for Hammer’s The Quiet Ones to make it to the cinema. The film went into production shortly after the huge success of The Woman In Black, so we were eager to see their second revival ghost story.
Jared Harris (Mad Men, Fringe) plays swaggering Oxford Professor Coupland, who is investigating paranormal events that seem to be caused by troubled individuals. With a small research team and reserved cameraman Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin), he brings his unstable but willing test subject Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) to a remote country house. There, he hopes to provoke Jane’s latent telekinetic ability and give a scientific explanation for poltergeists.
The Quiet Ones sets out its stall early on. There’s the 1970s setting, the spooky house, and the things that go bump in the night. We are very much in classical British horror territory here, and the first half’s determination to establish that mood is largely successful. The atmosphere of traditional horror as the ghost hunters gather around Jane like she’s a human ouija board is like sitting in an old armchair in front of a warm fire. It helps that the young and beautiful cast is led by an energetic, charismatic turn from Harris, who seems to be channelling a combination of Peter Cushing and Malcolm McDowell.
There’s also something appealing about the notion of vintage ghost-hunting, as James Wan’s The Conjuring showed. Watching Coupland and his young colleagues tackle the increasingly dangerous manifestations with their bulky equipment and vintage camera gives The Quiet Ones an identity of its own, separate from the recent rash of found-footage ghost stories.
The reasons for the lengthy post-production become apparent once the manifestations start. With three screenwriters adapting a previous script by Urban Gothic’s Tom De Ville, it does feel like several drafts were cobbled together to provide an ending. The repetitive structure becomes irritating, as Coupland provokes a paranormal reaction, gets a boo scare, and then argues with his team before the process begins again. The final act feels rushed and unconvincing, squandering the atmosphere the first half had accomplished.
This general sense of uncertainty is present throughout, as the classic ghost story aspect bumps up against the filmmakers’ desire to make sure that they still have your attention. The lack of consistency in the script makes it too easy to be jarred by the moments that work less well. When the hammier dialogue sits too close to the weaker effects moments, it all gets a bit creaky.
That being said, there is a lot working in its favour. Cooke (who plays Bates Motel’s determined amateur detective Emma Decody) is superb as Jane. She nails the character’s ability to shift from vulnerable waif to violent manipulator in the blink of an eye, retaining sympathy while remaining dangerous. Her relationship with Coupland provides the film with one of its more interesting subplots, and she keeps us invested in the film even as it enters its silly finale.
It’s also important to note that, as wobbly as The Quiet Ones gets, it is a lot of fun. Pogue creates a strong air of dread as the students settle into the house and the early “Is anyone there?” scenes are very well constructed, leading to some fantastic jump scares.
Finally, however, there’s just too much that doesn’t come together. Despite a strong first half and committed performances, The Quiet Ones scrambles at various horror cliches to arrive at a disappointing conclusion. It’s a fun ride, but it’s not a memorable one.