Paying homage to the vintage horror movies of the 1970s, The Quiet Ones is the latest stylish shocker from Hammer, the recently reactivated U.K. studio imprint. Mixing creaky haunted-house and exorcism tropes with a nod to the contemporary found-footage subgenre, the film relies on high production values and sense-battering shock tactics to make up for wooden performances and a silly script.
The sophomore feature of screenwriter-turned-director John Pogue, The Quiet Ones boasts the usual vague claims to be "inspired by actual events." Set in 1974, it stars Mad Men veteran Jared Harris as Joseph Coupland, an Oxford University psychology professor with highly unorthodox methods.
Coupland hires amateur cameraman Brian McNeil (Hunger Games regular Sam Claflin) to document his controversial experiments on Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), a mentally unstable young woman who appears to be possessed by a diabolical alter ego named Evey.
The professor believes Jane is creating Evey through her own telekinetic powers. His cutting-edge treatment involves locking her in a cell-like bedroom and blasting her with loud rock music.
Driven out of Oxford by nervous university authorities, Coupland and his team relocate to a crumbling country house straight out of the horror-cliche handbook. No other living souls for miles around? Check. Broken phone connection? Check.
Harris clearly relishes playing Coupland as a louche, chain-smoking, libidinous dandy, just a degree away from hammy mad-scientist caricature. In a vintage Hammer production, Vincent Price or Christopher Lee would have owned this role. Claflin's Brian is a pale cipher of naive goodness, while his fellow researchers Kristina (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) are thinly written eye-candy roles.
A charitable horror aficionado might interpret all the clumsy touches as self-referential allusions to Hammer's notoriously cheap, semi-exploitation ethos. But they still grate, and sit oddly alongside the film's technical polish.
The Quiet Ones is not very original, or even especially scary. All the same, it earns its place in Hammer's campy canon of superior B-movie schlock.
The Quiet Ones
** (Out of four stars)
Directed by John Pogue. With Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne. Distributed by Lionsgate.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.
Parent's guide: PG-13 (violence and terror, sexual content, language, smoking).