Inspired by a real-life incident – valuable currency for a horror film – The Quiet Ones relives a troubling case of demonic possession that claimed the lives of a team of scientists.
It’s immaterial that John Pogue’s film is grounded in the contentious facts of the infamous Philip Experiment, which saw Canadian parapsychologists test their theory that the human mind is responsible for manifestations attributed to ghosts. All blood-lusting audiences will care about is the number of jump-out-of-your seats shocks and wince-inducing scares that the director and his two co-writers, Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman, have crammed into 98 minutes.
Disappointingly, you can count them on two fingers.
Admittedly, the film does boast one devilishly teasing scene of impending carnage involving a character unwittingly resting her head in the wrong place, where clumps of her hair can be torn from her scalp. Pogue intentionally allows the scene to drag on, heightening our discomfort until we can barely look at the screen.
For the most part, though, The Quiet Ones resorts to staples of the genre – creaking doors that open of their own accord, figures emerging suddenly from the darkness – which can be anticipated well in advance.
The screenplay transplants the malevolent mind games from Toronto to the dreaming spires of 1970s Oxford. Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) is convinced that there is a direct link between paranormal activity and human negative energy. He ignores university protocols and conducts a secret experiment on a troubled patient, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), aided by two students, Kristina Dalton (Erin Richards) and Harry Abrams (Rory Fleck-Byrne).
Cameraman Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) is recruited to the team to provide the evidence that will send shockwaves through the academic establishment.
“Your job will be to document every step of the experiment,” explains Coupland. “I hope you don’t scare easily,” he adds, ominously.
The professor takes Brian to a house where Jane is being willingly held in a locked room for her own safety. The girl believes that she is in the thrall of a dark spirit called Evie and the professor is determined to heal his ward, but as the experiments gather momentum, the team witnesses alarming visions that defy rational explanation.
The Quiet Ones is the latest offering from the Hammer Film stable, which sent shivers down collective spines with the 2012 chiller, The Woman In Black. Pogue’s film falls short of that journey into supernatural madness.
Harris teeters on the brink of hysteria throughout, leaving younger co-stars – some of whom are making their film debuts – to curry our sympathy.
The relationship between Claflin and Cooke provides us with an emotional anchor but the script skimps on character development until the closing 10 minutes when a flood of outlandish exposition attempts to wrap everything up with a hellish final flourish.