Jared Harris, Stylish Visuals Carry "The Quiet Ones"

Hammer Films’ “The Quiet Ones” is an unabashed mood piece, an homage to the days of classic British horror, and especially evocative of two 1973 releases in particular – “Don’t Look Now” and “The Wicker Man.” It’s no coincidence, then, that the film takes place during that same era, and its attention to period piece detail singlehandedly makes it a worthy experience for students of the genre. The screenplay – and its feeble scare tactics – are problematic, but a magnetic performance from star Jared Harris (“Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows”) goes a long way in remedying the creaky, monotonous story.

Harris headlines as Joseph Coupland, an Oxford professor obsessed with the paranormal and a desire to “cure” the afflicted. His studies cross over into the real world when he and a team of students begin experimenting on a troubled young woman, Jane (Olivia Cooke), a misfit with alleged supernatural tendencies. She spends her days locked in a room, her demons muted by loud music, but at night, she loses herself. It’s a world seen through the eyes of novice crew member, Brian (Sam Claflin), who’s promptly tasked with recording the experiments. This introduces an unnecessary “found footage” angle to the story, but the film doesn’t hinge on it, minimizing the distraction.

What is distracting is director John Pogue’s failure to grasp the most basic (read: cheapest) of horror movie tropes – the ubiquitous jump scare – as the film endlessly mistakes loud noises for scares. Not exactly living up to its name, the bombastic sound design of “The Quiet Ones” becomes tiresome very quickly, its ear-piercing shrieks and creaks lacking the accompanying visual cues that typically make jump scares work. The volume spikes happen so often that any initial uncomfortability quickly abates as the approach becomes routine. It’s a formula that’s a staple of the genre’s worst, making Pogue’s fondness for it that much more inexplicable.

But as Coupland and his team become further isolated, the movie calls to mind yet another interesting early 70s cultural touchstone – the Stanford prison experiment. Members of the team begin to turn on each other, making for more compelling conflict than anything going on with Jane and her ostensible poltergeist, Evey. As filmed, the script doesn’t mine particularly deep for sociological undertones, but they’re there, and they hint at the existence of a far more ambitious draft of the screenplay. Four writers (including Pogue) are credited on the film, suggesting a bumpy path from conception to screen, and the end result doesn’t rebuff that notion.

The pic’s languid pace and dearth of genuine scares will drive away casual horror fans, but its precise visuals often make it hard to turn away from. Aesthetically speaking, “The Quiet Ones” is elegant genre work, and Harris’ performance is delightful – over the top, but delightful – his annunciation alone worth the price of admission. And in an age of trashy, indistinct horror, it’s the little things that often matter the most. The movie separates itself from the herd with its stylish atmospherics and a uniformly interesting cast. It might swing and miss on its biggest ideas – or lack thereof – but it gets enough of the minutiae right to be worth a look for horror purists.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (OK)

Release Date: April 25, 2014
Studio: Lionsgate
Director: John Pogue
Screenwriter: Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, John Pogue, Tom de Ville
Starring: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of violence and terror, sexual content, thematic material, language, and smoking throughout)