I’m of two minds when it comes to The Quiet Ones, although I definitely lean stronger toward one than the other. The first is that it is scary and works so effectively at making you jump that anything else it does almost doesn’t matter, for good or for ill. The second is that its scares are primarily of the jumping variety, meaning they’re not really scaring — they’re startling. Quick pans or cuts to a thing jumping out at you while the music ramps up to ear-splitting levels isn’t frightening. Except that the film on the whole is just that, even if its standout moments, the ones that want to make you jump, are basically cheap gimmicks. Do you get what I’m saying? Most of this movie works without any of its jump scares or sudden loud noises.
What I’m getting at is that the atmosphere that director John Pogue builds is strong enough that it keeps you expecting something to happen even when not a single thing will, or ever could have. Yes, the jump scares happen and are effective at getting you to jump, but the moments in between them are even better. That’s one of the ways to use them the most effectively.
The plot probably isn’t going to seem fresh to many people, especially those who have more than dabbled in the paranormal horror movie scene. An Oxford professor (Jared Harris) is performing an experiment on a disturbed young woman, Jane (Olivia Cooke), in order to attempt to rid of her personal demons. And he does, emphatically so, believe that it’s all in her head. This is an Oxford professor; he’s not allowed to have irrational thoughts like a belief in possession.
In order to help with his experiment, he enlists the help of a trio of college students — two from his class and one from the A/V department. The protagonist, if there is one, is Brian (Sam Claflin), who is brought in part way through in order to document the entire proceedings through a terrible, terrible camera. It is the 1970s, after all, and he is a poor student. But, before we truly begin, the professor’s funding is cut off and we have to move to a secluded mansion that just screams “Haunted House Movie!” as soon as we see it, even if this isn’t a haunted house movie.
We move back and forth between the director’s camera and that of Brian. Initially, it seems as if all the “paranormal” stuff happens only when we take the point of view of the in-movie camera, but soon enough it happens outside of that, too. Anyone watching will assume that Jane is possessed, but logic puts up a good fight. Whether there is actually a possession or if there’s a rational explanation for the film’s events is one of the primary tensions at play.
However, matters are complicated by all of the secondary characters and their relationships to one another. Brian immediately develops feelings for Jane, even though she’s off-limits. The good professor is seen kissing Kristina (Erin Richards) one of his earlier assistant, even though she’s with Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), the other assistant prior to Brian’s arrival. He also seems interested in Jane in ways that someone in a position of power probably shouldn’t. For a while, we even wonder if he’s setting the whole thing up. This isn’t a film that goes straight down the typical progression. Wrenches are thrown into the loop and they allow The Quiet Ones to justify its (brief) 90-minute running time. You don’t get bored while watching it.
There isn’t a great deal of originality to The Quiet Ones. Fans of this specific genre will feel as if they’ve seen much of it before. The studio behind the film is Hammer Films, a British company that specializes in horror films. What say they had over the finished product will never be known, but if you’ve seen a couple of the studio’s projects, you’ll notice some similarities to this one.
I don’t know how much that matters, though. The Quiet Ones builds such a strong atmosphere, and does so good at getting you involved in its proceedings, that you soon forget that, no, it’s not exactly original. You become invested in what’s happening — partially because of the in-movie camera, which is only used sometimes, as opposed to a found-footage film which uses it all the time — and you forget about those other films.
A lot of credit also has to go to the actors, who could have phoned it in and made the whole premise incredibly silly. Instead, they buy in. Jared Harris is the veteran who brings strong credibility and conviction to the film, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne work well as his sidekicks who constantly flip around on whom they support, Sam Claflin makes for a dependable everyman, and Olivia Cooke goes all-out as the maybe-possessed woman who becomes everyone’s focus.
The Quiet Ones is a solid entry into the paranormal horror movie genre. It immerses, it startles, and it does generate genuine scares. It might feel a little too familiar to connoisseurs of the genre, I think the way it manages to create a strong atmosphere and draw in an audience will make most people forget about similar films. Its actors buy in, which is key, and it’s really a lot of fun. Do I think you should see The Quiet Ones? Definitely. See it. It’s very enjoyable.