The folks calling themselves Hammer Films these days are back, and once again, their efforts bear little, if any, resemblance to the work of the company they claim to be. At the same time, The Quiet Ones does feel a good bit like the best movie Hammer’s chief rival, Amicus Productions, never made — a statement I’m sure means nothing unless you’re a hardcore horror movie geek. But that’s kind of my point with this brand name nonsense. Connecting the current owners of the Hammer name with the classic-era Hammer product is like calling modern Universal the people who made Dracula (1931). It’s true on paper, but it’s at least four corporate entities removed. (If it was your cousin, you could marry it.) But more, the point to all this is very obscure. They can flash their ersatz Marvel logo (that’s what it looks like) before the movie and all that, but outside of horror fandom of a certain generation, it means little or nothing to modern horror fans. The fact that this latest has tanked on its opening weekend is pretty sound evidence of this.
But what of the actual merits of The Quiet Ones? Well, it’s a mixed bag — and one that’s too in love with the sudden loud sound as a shock effect. After a while, the banging and bashing is less useful for scares than for ensuring the audience doesn’t nod off. Otherwise, the movie is a pretty solid effort of the paranormal-investigation-gone-wrong variety — only this one purports to be “inspired by true events” (and they’ve got some old photos to back this up). Setting the film in 1974 at least gives it something of the feel of a Brit horror movie of 40 years ago, just not a Hammer one. (Truth to tell, Hammer was past its prime by then.) However, having large chunks of the story told from the hand-held, 16mm film footage documenting the investigation edges the film into the realm of shaky-cam and found footage. At least this is logical in the context of the film, and it isn’t overly shaky.
The whole thing is about a clearly obsessed and possibly unhinged professor, Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), engaged in an unorthodox experiment to cure the supposedly possessed Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, TV’s Bates Motel). This is unorthodox enough to get Coupland booted out of Oxford. He is then forced to attempt the experiment on his own with a small crew in an (of course) isolated, old, dark house. What happens there is perhaps none too surprising, but it is atmospheric, and the relationships among Coupland, his three assistants and their subject is more than usually interesting. Better yet, the peculiar twists and turns of these relationships are not overly explained, making them more real than those depicted in many films of this sort.
The problem with the film comes from a tendency to not be able to deliver on its attempts at the Big Scares. This is partly a budgetary thing, but that doesn’t change the fact that the whatever-it-is that emerges from Jane’s mouth at one point is more funny than scary, and the film’s climax isn’t much better. That’s really too bad because the story itself — and its eventual revelations — are fairly strong. In fact, I could have given it a stronger endorsement if the film had ended with the melting film-frame. The completely unnecessary final scene just oozes ripest Velveeta and diminished my good will considerably. Even so, The Quiet Ones is worth seeing for horror fans. It is creepy, it’s reasonably intelligent and it’s well acted by its low star-power cast. I would not expect it to be around long. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and terror, sexual content, thematic material, language, and smoking throughout.
Playing at Carolina Cinemas, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande, United Artists Beaucatcher.