The Quiet Ones
John Pogue // 2014 // 98 mins
Though it's not always true of the best ones, when we think of ghost stories we think of the past; whether it be spectres dressed in period clothing or creaky, old manor houses. There is something intrinsically scarier about the past because it so different, so far removed from what we know. I think it's fair to say that a ghostly figure in a Victorian gown would be more effectively haunting than one dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. Period detailing is just a part of the iconography of a ghost story, and that is probably why ghost stories set in the present day tend to not visualise their ghosts, unless of course the ghosts themselves are from another time period.
The year is 1974, Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) has recruited two of his students and a young cameraman to take part in an experiment that will provide a scientific explanation for supposed supernatural activity. The subject is Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), an orphan who appears to have manifested an entity she refers to as Evey. What The Quiet Ones does so well is capture it's time period with a real authenticity, and this effort is what provides the film with a constant, unsettling atmosphere.
The bright Oxford summer is captured in warm, sun-kissed tones that provide a stark contrast to the dimly lit experiments the group carry out on Jane. The experiments are shown as primitive and unorthodox and cast a more disturbing light on Professor Coupland than they do Jane. She is a helpless young girl who wants desperately to be cured of her afflictions and so undertakes every disturbing treatment the group throw at her. While the film seems to dismiss Coupland's scientific theories, showing that Jane really is the victim of a supernatural possession, there are surprisingly few instances of clear ghostly activity, with most of the scares being provided by Coupland's deafening equipment. It seems ironic that a film called The Quiet Ones should rely so heavily on turning the volume up in order to generate it's scares, and in most cases these sharp jolts to the eardrums are used in place of anything remotely visible.
Though the story is made up of one-note, archetypes the cast give their best efforts to make these characters interesting. Jared Harris is the most successful, inhabiting the narrow-minded Coupland; a man so determined to prove himself that he disregards the safety and welfare of those around him. Olivia Cooke certainly looks the part as Jane, with long dark hair and a pasty complexion, but most of her characters effectiveness comes from the post-production effects rather than her performance, while Sam Claflin's withdrawn cameraman Brian does everything that is expected of him and provides a bit of much-needed humanity to some otherwise inhumane activities.
The films biggest misstep comes in the decision to implement found footage elements into the narrative, for no other reason that to cash in on the current trend. While the grainy stock aesthetic of these sequences is an effective means of enhancing the creepy atmosphere, the subsequent switching between handheld and traditional camerawork is disorientating and needless. Director John Pogue would have been wiser to choose one style and follow through with it wholly, as this merging of two styles makes for a shoddy, patchwork of a film.
The Quiet Ones' story holds potential but questionable stylistic choices betray this potential in favour of generating a quick thrill with a trendy gimmick. Occasionally there is an effective scare, but for the most part this is a largely uninspired ghost story that owes most of it's limited success to it's setting and keen, period aesthetic.