Written and directed by John Pogue for the recently resurrected Hammer Film Productions, 2014's The Quiet Ones purports to be based on a true story, that of ‘The Philip Experiment' which took place in Toronto, Ontario in 1972. This was a parapsychology experiment conducted in Toronto by ‘The Owen Group' and if you do some quick internet research on the event it makes for some interesting reading and you can clearly see how elements of that story were worked into this movie.
This version of the story, however, takes place in England in the 1970's where an Oxford professor named Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) teaches his class that there is really no such thing as the supernatural. He explains this to his class by showing them a film of a possessed boy and, after the film shows what could be considered paranormal activity, explaining how science can and will find a rational explanation for all of this. In fact, Coupland is currently involved in an extracurricular study of his own, aided by two students, pretty blonde Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), and has recently hired Brian McNeil (Sam Claflin) to film the results. The subject of his study is a young woman named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) and they've completely removed her from society, keeping her locked up in a room that looks more like a cell and playing music at loud volumes to deprive her of sleep in hopes that she'll be able to ‘manifest' whatever is she claims is haunting her.
As it turns out, what's haunting Jane is the spirit of a young girl named Evey and Jane is able to put her spiritual energy into a toy doll that Coupland gives her specifically for that purpose. The university soon pulls their funding and Coupland and the others relocate to an old seemingly abandoned house to continue on their own but they're about to learn that Jane's problems may be far more real than any of them ever imagined. As Jane's symptoms intensify and Coupland's methods become more extreme, strange things start to happen not just to Jane but to the others in the house as well…
The Quiet Ones is entertaining enough but it doesn't offer up anything in terms of lasting horror, instead relying on a lot of cheap jump scares and an insanely aggressive sound mix. There is, to Pogue's credit, a lot of nice atmosphere on display throughout the movie, however, with the locations used for the shoot really helping to set the right sort of mood for a story like this. The movie does a decent job of maintaining a seventies feel in terms of the music used, the look of the locations and the style of the characters' clothing but by incorporating a ‘found footage' aspect into the storyline we wind up with more tonal shifts than the film needs. This can be distracting as we move back and forth between the footage shot by Brian and footage shot like a regular movie seemingly at random and without a whole lot of reason behind it. Those susceptible to this sort of thing may find it distracting, others might not even notice it.
Thankfully this isn't a movie that's heavy on effects work because the one or two scenes that do require effects work were rendered with some really awful CGI work. The main example of this (mild spoilers, maybe) is when the ectoplasm manifests. What we see occur looks like something out of a Playstation 2 era Resident Evil game and it sticks out like a sore thumb. Adding insult to injury here is the fact that this particular scene adds absolutely nothing to the movie story-wise or tension-wise. It's there to give an audience lacking in imagination something to see, perhaps?
The performances are pretty good, however. We know something is up with Harris Coupland from the start so his increasingly obsessive character development doesn't really surprise us but the actor plays the part well. He becomes sterner, more forceful and more determined even as everything around him starts to hit the fan. Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne are fine in their supporting roles and Sam Claflin, who is essentially the male lead here, is also decent enough in what he brings to his character. The real star of the show, however, is pretty Olivia Cooke. Best known to American TV audiences for her equally strong work in A&E's Bates Motel she creates quite a sympathetic character here and as the story plays out, transforms that character into something else entirely. She has a timid look to her that works in the film's favor and you can't help but feel for her as she's put through the ringer in the name of science.
So yeah, the movie isn't perfect and the movie has some problems but there are some good ideas here, some of which are executed well and some of which are squandered. The movie goes at a good pace and while it could and should have delivered a whole lot more than it does in its ninety-eight minute running time, if you're in the mood for some cheap scares, decent acting and healthy doses of wasted potential, this'll fit the bill.
The Quiet Ones arrives on Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.78.1 widescreen. As noted earlier, the movie jumps back and forth between regularly shot movie footage and ‘found footage' style material as shot by Sam Claflin's character so expect some digital effects to have been added here in an attempt to make it look like old film stock. As far as the quality of the transfer goes, it's quite good. This is a very dark looking film, almost all of it takes place inside the old semi-abandoned property where the researchers wind up setting up their base of operations. As such, we don't get a lot of bright colors here but when the movie does use them they're reproduced well. The black levels are solid here and shadow detail is quite good. Skin tones look fine and there are no obvious issues with compression artifacts or edge enhancement. Detail is typically pretty strong as well, you'll note the crags in the faces of different characters in close up shots but also be able to pick up on dirt on the walls of Jane's room when the camera peers through the peephole in the door. It's a grim and gritty looking picture but you get the impression that this is how it is supposed to look and the disc is nicely authored. No complaints here.
Audio options are provided in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound with optional subtitles provided in English and Spanish. For a movie called The Quiet Ones the audio here is anything but quiet. The lossless mix is very aggressive almost to the point where it gets out of hand but when it hits your subwoofer to make you jump, it is pretty effective. Cheap scares? Maybe, but regardless the mix does what it is supposed to in that regard. Additionally there are all manner of directional effects used throughout the movie to varying degrees of success, so there's plenty of surround activity to keep you engaged. The levels would seem to be balanced the way that the filmmakers want them to be but be prepared for some spikes here and there, presumably to heighten tension. Dialogue stays clean and clear throughout, however, and there are no issues of note with any hiss or distortion. The score also sounds quite good but yeah, this is definitely aggressive and sometimes very over the top in its delivery.
Extras on the disc start off with an audio commentary that comes courtesy of director John Pogue and producer Tobin Armbrust. Although this is a bit dry in spots and doesn't exactly movie at a hundred miles an hour, it does allow the two to offer up some information as to the origins of the film, shooting on location in spots, ideas that were bantered about but never used and the different characters that populate the film. It covers most of the bases you'd expect it to but it isn't the most enthusiastic talk you're ever likely to hear.
The disc also includes two featurettes, the first of which is Welcome To The Experiment: Making The Quiet Ones which clocks in at thirty-five minutes which is made up of a good mix of cast and crew interviews and footage shot on set during the production. The most interesting aspects discuss the events that inspired the story but we also talk about the characters and why certain actors were cast as they were. There's some interesting discussion of the technology used to make the movie as well. An Ominous Opening is an eight and a half minute featurettes that talks about the opening scene and how it sets the mood. Pogue didn't originally want anything of this sort but relented and was quite happy with it and we get to hear from the people who made it in this piece.
Rounding out the extras are a few Deleted Scenes (approximately twelve minutes of material here, seven scenes in total and none of which is all that interesting in the long run), a three and a half minute selection of Outtakes, trailers for a few unrelated Lionsgate properties (though no trailer for the feature itself), animated menus and chapter selection. Additionally inside the Blu-ray case is an insert with a download code redeemable for a digital copy of the movie. The case comes packaged inside a cardboard slipcover.
The Quiet Ones has got some problems but its' entertaining enough even if it doesn't offer up much more than superficial scares. Olivia Cooke's performance is a strong one and the movie isn't lacking in atmosphere even if it has some logic gaps and one really inappropriate scene with awful CGI. It's worth seeing if the subject matter interests you, just go in with your expectations tempered accordingly. As to the Blu-ray release from Lionsgate, the lossless mix is really aggressive and a lot of over the top fun while the transfer and extras are solid as well. This is a decent enough rental but probably not something you're going to watch over and over again.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.