Friday, April 25, 2014

In Theaters: THE QUIET ONES (2014)

(US/UK - 2014)

Directed by John Pogue.  Written by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, and John Pogue.  Cast: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke, Erin Richards, Rory Fleck-Byrne, Laurie Calvert, Aldo Maland. (PG-13, 98 mins)

The 2007 revival of the legendary Hammer Films was much-hyped in horror circles, but in the ensuing seven years, it's only resulted in five films and BEYOND THE RAVE, a 20-part serial that debuted on MySpace in 2008.  Of those five films, LET ME IN, the 2010 remake of the Swedish vampire hit LET THE RIGHT ONE IN, and 2012's THE WOMAN IN BLACK were the undisputed standouts, with the Hilary Swank stalker thriller THE RESIDENT (which featured Hammer icon Christopher Lee in a prominent supporting role) and the subpar WAKE WOOD not doing much to herald Hammer as a force in today's horror. Two years after their last production and two years after it was shot, Hammer's latest offering, THE QUIET ONES, has finally arrived and it seems to encapsulate every doubt I've had about this new "Hammer."  Specifically, it's not Hammer. Sure, it's the name "Hammer," but that's all it is.  These aren't being made by the same talents that gave us all of those old classics with Lee and Peter Cushing and the rest.  Of course, most of those people are no longer with us, but this new Hammer is simply coasting on nostalgia and brand recognition, much like its barely reanimated rival Amicus, which has only managed to churn out two films since its 2005 rebirth.  There's no continuity or sense of tradition with the current Hammer, though THE WOMAN IN BLACK was a thoroughly enjoyable throwback chiller that has thus far come closest to being worthy of the name by replicating what a vintage Hammer production should be. THE QUIET ONES is, for lack of a better term, poseur Hammer, a film that thinks it's being old-school just because it has a British cast and is set in 1974, but it doesn't do anything with that setting.  In fact, it seems to go out of its way to placate today's audiences with a 2014 assembly-line product. And unless you're part of a focus group, that's not a good thing.

Arrogant Oxford psychology prof Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) is trying to prove that ghosts and supernatural occurrences are simply manifestations of psychological and emotional trauma.  His case study is Jane (Olivia Cooke), a troubled young woman who's been shuffled from one foster home to another.  Jane believes she's possessed by the spirit of a child named Evey.  When the university cuts his funding, Coupland moves the study to a middle-of-nowhere country estate, taking along two student researchers, Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), and Krissi (Erin Richards, doing a decent job of channeling a coquettish Judy Geeson), who spend their free time having rambunctious, bed-breaking sex, as well as cameraman-for-hire Brian (Sam Claflin).  Coupland blasts glam rock at high volume to keep Jane awake (Slade's "Cum on Feel the Noize" and T. Rex's "Telegram Sam" get some airplay) in the hopes that it will prompt Evey to show herself.  It doesn't take Jane long to cast a spell of sorts on Brian, who finds himself not exactly falling for her, but certainly wishing to save her from the increasingly unethical "treatment" of Coupland and his assistants.  Of course, it's inevitable that Evey will eventually make her presence known and her true intentions revealed, and rest assured, it's nothing you haven't seen a hundred times before.

Familiarity is the least of THE QUIET ONES' problems.  It succumbs to stupidity on too many occasions (if Coupland is concerned about Jane manipulating Brian, then why does he allow Brian to sit in and film her while she's bathing?), and when Coupland's ultimate goal behind his experiment is revealed, it lands with a thud because we're just done caring about him by that point.  But the film's biggest issue, and one that makes its 1974 setting nothing more than retro-cool window dressing, is that the bulk of the film is seen through the lens of Brian's camera while he's filming, a terrible decision that seems to have been made simply to appease the found-footage crowd.  So, of course, a good chunk of the horror histrionics are presented in de rigeur shaky-cam, and the attached light allows for an extended sequence of running through the dark house in a 1970s approximation of night-vision.  Gussying things up with a faded color palette, wide lapels, hot pants, gaudy wallpaper, and having people chain-smoking in now-inappropriate settings are only cosmetic elements. Hammer was about blazing trails, and even when they followed trends and added more sex and gore to films like THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, they were still distinctly Hammer.  There's nothing Hammer here. There's no reason other than commercial pandering to set the film up in this fashion, which negates the whole sense of nostalgia that Hammer and director/co-writer John Pogue (QUARANTINE 2: TERMINAL, which oddly enough, abandoned the found-footage angle of its predecessor) are ostensibly pursuing even more than recycling the vomiting CGI ectoplasm effect from THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT, which is really where THE QUIET ONES jumps the shark. Maybe the vintage 1970s aura is something that existed in the original script by Tom De Ville, which was apparently rewritten by the committee of Pogue, Craig Rosenberg (LOST, THE UNINVITED), and the unlikely Oren Moverman, whose past credits for films like I'M NOT THERE, THE MESSENGER, and RAMPART don't exactly make him the go-to guy for Hammer horror.  I can only assume that an odd credit like "Based on the original screenplay by Tom De Ville" means that none of De Ville's script made it to the completed version.  The film is also "inspired by actual events," which means it was vaguely influenced by what's known as the "Phillip Experiment," where Canadian researchers tried to conjure a ghost on their own.  It was ultimately revealed to be a hoax, not unlike the current incarnation of "Hammer," which will henceforth be accompanied by quote marks when referenced.

Cooke does some solid work as the haunted Jane, and in many ways reminds you of a younger Eva Green, but the best thing about THE QUIET ONES is easily the performance of Harris. The veteran character actor gets a rare lead role here and sinks his teeth into it, turning Dr. Coupland into an extended tribute to his father, the late, great Richard Harris.  Jared Harris sounds so much like his old man and has inherited so many of his vocal inflections, that even though he doesn't have the strongest physical resemblance, you can absolutely see his dad in his mannerisms and hear him in his words. As the spiritual shit hits the fan later on, Harris also throws a little Oliver Reed and Patrick Magee into the mix, and whatever fun THE QUIET ONES offers largely comes from watching him.  It's too bad his efforts are wasted on something so blandly unworthy.  THE QUIET ONES is little more than background noise, atmospheric to an extent and filled with predictable jump scares punctuated by loud music cues.  If you're looking for some legitimate chills of the old-fashioned variety in a film that doesn't feel the need to cop to stale trends that refuse to die, give OCULUS a look if hasn't already left your area theaters.  That's a film set in the present day that could've been made in the 1970s. If you're watching THE QUIET ONES for some sense of 1970s eerieness, you're better off just watching any random Hammer production from 1974. Or maybe 1973's THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE.  Or hell, just watch Edgar Wright's DON'T trailer. In under 90 seconds, that perfectly nails the concept of "1974 British horror" better than all 98 minutes of "Hammer"'s THE QUIET ONES.

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