Louder is not better was a sentiment I used to describe The Woman in Black, Hammer Films’ horror hit that was rife with cheap scare gags and sudden bursts of shrill sound FX to rattle the audience. I believe there’s a place for those tropes in the genre, but it didn’t seem to fit within that period piece. Alas, because it worked for that film at the box office, Hammer insisted on repeating itself for The Quiet Ones, another period film – this one set in the ‘70s – with vapid fright gags that leaves an insignificant mark on Hollywood’s current fascination with supernatural fare. Worst of all, it manages to sap all of the energy out a screen-worthy story.
Loosely inspired by true events, and directed by John Pogue (who delivered the less than impressive Quarantine 2), the film concerns the paranormal research that is being done by a group of British students, led by Professor Coupland (a believably determined and quite good Jared Harris). He insists telekinetic manifestations – and other supernatural hokum – originate within negative human emotions. (No, we're not talking about pink slime that reacts to anger.) With this team, Coupland studies Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, still playing the awkward and timid type, which she excels at) in a house off campus. Jane has had a troubled history growing up; she's been passed from house to house to anyone that will take her in. Problem is, once she's found a home, strange things begin to happen thus leading Coupland to suspect she's got what it takes for his poltergeist studies.
Hired to document all of this is Brian (Sam Claflin giving a wooden performance). So, in a way, The Quiet Ones adopts the “faux documentary” aesthetic as the audience spends a good portion of the runtime watching the events play out through Brian’s camera. What is not explained, sometimes, is how exactly the sound is being recorded since Brian would need an extra crew member for that task (they didn’t have a built-in microphone for Brian’s camera in the ‘70s). Still, use of of the faux doc approach neither detracts from nor heightens the viewing experience. It’s simply just there.
Very much like this movie. It doesn’t have a reason for being.
And this is due in part because The Quiet Ones lacks momentum or any sort of high stakes. There’s no ticking clock looming over the events. No real driving force to carry us from scene to scene (beyond the team’s motivations with Jane). It’s not like Jane is quickly dying and they all need to work quickly to accomplish their task to save her. There simply isn’t enough here to sustain a compelling story. There’s a half-baked emotional backbone to float us through the movie that focuses on the connection between Brian and Jane as well as a bit of spoiler-y information from Coupland’s past, still, that only takes the audience so far. Further, the finale is clunky and filled with mustache-twirling villainy that feels incredibly out of place.
Unlike its supernatural thriller contemporaries like The Conjuring or the recently released Oculus, The Quiet Ones lacks simmering, quiet dread. It’s a movie that concerns itself with hitting you in the face with its scares and this gets tiresome really fast. While I appreciate that this is an original horror offering, it’s fairly weak sauce driven by bad genre instincts. If you have a remote interest in this one, you’d do well to wait until it appears on Netflix Instant.