Back in 2008, fans of the Golden Age of British horror were given reason to celebrate. Hammer Films, the legendary fright factory behind such classic Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing gothic chillers as 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein and 1958’s Horror of Dracula, announced that it was dusting off the cobwebs, pulling its wooden stakes out of the crypt, and going back into the bogeyman business. To date, however, the studio has managed mixed results at best (2010’s Let Me In, 2012’s The Woman in Black).
Unfortunately, Hammer’s latest burnt offering doesn’t improve on its so-so track record. Directed by John Pogue (Quarantine 2: Terminal), The Quiet Ones is a retro possession story that will wind up being best remembered for its groovy ’70s setting (lots of mutton-chop sideburns and T. Rex and Slade songs on the soundtrack) and a deliciously sinister performance from Jared Harris. Harris, who’s much better than anything else in the movie, plays Joseph Coupland, an ambitious and ever-so-creepy Oxford professor of abnormal psychology. His latest experiment involves a possessed young woman named Jane Harper (Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke) who channels her inner demons through a doll named ”Evey” that really ought to sing ”Ring Around the Rosie,” but sadly, doesn’t.
Forty years ago, Cushing would have played this sort of mad scientist role in his sleep — and given moviegoers nightmares in theirs. But Harris proves that he’s more than up to the challenge, giving Coupland a seductive edge of frisky menace. No other actor working today exhales cigarette smoke with the same fiendish glee as Harris. The professor enlists two of his more promising students (Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne) to assist in the experiment along with a local cameraman named Brian (The Hunger Games’ Sam Claflin) whose job is to record the strange goings on and to not ask questions. Initially, Brian is freaked out by Jane’s ability to telekinetically make lightbulbs explode, vomit supernatural goo, and otherwise act like Carrie at the prom. But he eventually grows more sympathetic since he’s apparently never been let in on the lesson we all learned a long time ago: namely, that pale, spooky girls in white nightgowns with long, lank hair and dolls in their arms are not to be messed with. Harris knows that Jane and Brian’s feelings for one another could be toxic to his experiment and he isn’t pleased. Or is he??
After being kicked off campus for his unorthodox methods, Coupland and the exorcism gang head up to a remote old estate where Jane’s possession escalates, Brian’s connection to Jane grows deeper, and Harris twirls his mustache, doing his best to keep the derivative horror show humming along. The Quiet Ones is smart enough to at least create a reason for its overuse of handheld shaky-cam footage: Brian is recording these events for posterity. But the dizzying technique is still a stylistic cliché of the genre that needs to be retired. And aside from a few cheap but effective shocks and jumps, there’s nothing here that horror fans haven’t seen in better recent films like The Conjuring. Not to mention all of those wonderful Hammer films from the ’50s and ’60s. B-