Set in the 1970s, and based on Dr. A.R.G. Owen’s real-life ‘Philip Experiment’ – the creation of ghosts through focused mind power, university professor Coupland (Jared Harris) leads a team of student researchers, Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), on an a controversial supernatural exploration of how ghosts are ‘invented’, involving experiments on a young and seemingly disturbed girl called Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Naïve, young cameraman Brian (Sam Claflin) catches events on film, growing increasingly troubled by what he is witnessing.
What sounds like something exciting and fresh on paper soon becomes the norm on film; the doe-eyed girl in white nightie with split personality locked in a room and having episodes that shake the foundations while her ‘captors’ try and avoid her demonic wrath. Indeed, Cooke does a superb job of the mediocre writing material in keeping us intrigued as to whether her current predicament is self-induced or otherwise. She mixes fragility with a sinister, attention-seeking strength that plays nicely opposite Clafin’s protective and naïve nature as he is sucked in. The other actors also deliver reliable performances, none more so than Harris who is needed as the commanding figure in the fold, playing manipulative despot with a lethal charm, almost satanic in himself.
And this is where director John Pogue’s film could have elevated itself above the rest of the chiller thrillers: the quietly subconscious exposé of the people doing the experiment, which is of more disturbing and psychological interest here. Even Brian’s involvement does not go uncriticised as he is a willing party to an extent, and has questionable feelings for the ‘subject’. Coupland is rich for the picking, especially as some of his past is flagged near the end, as well as his growing sadistic nature. Instead, we get bizarre ectoplasm spewing, clawing moments and prompted jumps, all to the noisy soundtrack of rock band Slade. There is an attempt at character exploration but not enough – such as a brief dalliance between teacher and student that just comes off as an excuse for a dirty older man to paw a younger model. Other ‘paranormal’ occurrences are left hanging too, leading to a feeling of being short-changed.
There is also the head-scratching flaw of ‘found-footage’ films where the camera op becomes the front-of-camera subject – so who’s filming? The Quiet Ones does an excellent job of reproducing the soft-focused cinematography of the 70s in parts, accentuating the sexual hedonism of the times but then abruptly mixes this with more modern-styled horror production techniques that don’t quite marry together – better the former to recapture the full Hammer heyday effect.
In short, The Quiet Ones is a confused concept with great, star-quality performances that are its saving grace. It is chocked full of great ideas and could have been so much more. The studio should have had more faith in the intriguing psychology of its real-life and inspiring back-story rather than to cheapen it with the usual horror tropes, some of which are getting a tad tiring.