THE QUIET ONES never really gets around to explaining its title, but it doesnt really matter. Produced by Hammer Films, that glorious British concern specializing in horror films that emphasize terror over gore, it is an elegant little flick, both creepy and atmospheric, that tells its tale of hubris and good intentions gone wrong with a studied seriousness.
Set in 1974, and purporting to be based on a true story, it spins the story what happens when Charles Coupland, an Oxford professor of abnormal psychology, determines to prove that supernatural possession is just a mental state with which science is not yet familiar. In pursuit of same, he has pressed two hormonal assistants (Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne), and all the state-of-the-art electromagnetic detectors and latest hypnotherapy techniques he can lay his hand on into the service of helping Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a waif-like young woman with suicidal tendencies, no memory of her early life, and a string of ex-foster parents who found her too spooky to succor. The last piece of the grand experiment involves Brian (Sam Claflin), a student with a passion for film and an undecided attitude about the supernatural. Hes brought in to document the experiment and, per Coupland, sew up his Nobel Prize. Isolated in a decaying manor house in the middle of nowhere, the game group sets about manifesting Evie, the spirit that haunts Jane, only to discover that inviting the unknown to come out and play is never a good idea.
Co-written by PARANORMAL ACTIVITYs Oren Moverman, THE QUIET ONES finds a new way to integrate home movies into a film. The footage Brian shoots, as well as some vintage footage from Couplands files, becomes ancillary to what happens, allowing the story to open up, and for us to see Brian go from disconcerted to terminally alarmed at the hijinks involved in curing Jane, hijinks that include keeping her up for days at a time and burning her with a candle flame. The film also invokes the style of 70s filmmaking. There are tantalizing hints of nudity and carnal activity; the supernatural is evoked not with visually overpowering special effects, but rather with slick editing, and a finesse with sound that is far more insidious.
The plot also evokes that earlier time, including ubiquitous and ebullient smoking by all concerned, but the familiarity rarely descends into cliché, thanks to the tight direction that evolves after a middling first act. The film also teases us with a few nicely played bait-and-switch gambits, convincing us that we know what awful thing is going to happen next, and then turning the tables. The characters, too, have a familiarity, though Harris plays the avuncular pomposity of his part with a light touch and a solid conviction. Claflin, a hunk from the CATCHING FIRE franchise, is a scooch too innocent here, though his decided lack of irony works in his favor, as does the pretentious modernity of Richards, decked out in period bouffant and hot pants. Cooke, as the long-suffering Jane has the right hollow eyes and veil of melancholy, but her bouts of stillness should be less inert and more menacing. When she goes on the attack, however, even if its just a demonic laugh, or plucking out the hair of a doll, shes suitably unsettling.
THE QUIET ONES does make for a scary time at the movies, which is all it set out to do. Oh, and possibly launch a franchise, but if subsequent tales of Evie are at least this effective, I say let the fun begin.