Wednesday, 27 August 2014

HAMMERAMA: The Quiet Ones (2014)

Hammer's big movie for 2014, this was actually filmed in 2012 and held back, so it's perhaps appropriate that I missed it in the cinema and only got to see it once it was released on DVD. Hammer's modern films are struggling to make a huge impact, falling uncomfortably between two stools. One the one hand they want to provide the traditional scares and atmosphere of Hammer's classic productions, while on the other they need to do some new and more modern. The Quiet Ones certainly feels like Hammer, with a slow set-up, a manic set piece and an uncomfortable atmosphere. As for the other side of things, there is very little to mark this out as anything new. Even the 1974 setting seems to have been chosen to make this feel like good, old-fashioned Hammer.

The central idea is a tried and tested one. Jane, a disturbed young woman, is manifesting poltergeist activity, and after years of being shunted between foster families and asylums she is now in the care of Professor Joseph Coupland, who is determined to purge her of the psychological damage that he believes is causing the manifestations. Not to actually help her, mind you, but because he sees himself as a scientific pioneer. “Cure one, and we cure the world.” He has two students assisting him, Krissi and Harry, and recruits young cameraman Brian to record his experiments. It becomes apparent very quickly that Joseph is blind to anything but his own hypothesis, and that his treatment of Jane comes to little more than abuse.

The whole production has a nasty undercurrent to it, drawing attention to the abuse that the most vulnerable suffer behind closed doors. It does, to its credit, avoid sensationalising this for the most part. The core cast are all very good, although Rory Fleck-Byrne hasn't much to do with Harry, who's just there to be a third party in the seedy love triangle with Krissi and Joseph. Both Erin Richards and Sam Claflin are very good as Krissi and Brian, but their characters are pretty cliched. Brian is gauche and nervous, but grows some balls in the end. Krissi puts it about and gets jealous when she's not the centre of attention. So far, so off-the-peg. In fairness, Joseph isn't the most original creation either, but at least he has some depth to him, and Jared Harris is absolutely magnetic in the role. An actor with gravitas to spare, his performance makes you understand why people would be following him even after his dismissal by his peers. Even as his seedier, selfish side becomes apparent, and his self-assurance turns to desperation, he maintains his position as the head of the household.

Best is Olivia Cooke as Jane, who really sells her character's fear, anger and internal torment. Manifesting her problems as an alter ego called Evie, Jane is the source of all the paranormal activity in the film. The question that hangs over the film is whether Evie is nothing more than the personification of Jane's trauma, as Joseph believes, a possessing spirit, or something altogether stranger. There's a theme of the abuse of power, and with it, the blindness of belief, be it in the supernatural or a supposed scientific truth.

However, John Pogue's direction leads a lot to be desired. The film switches between Brian's home footage and standard cinematography. Picking one or the other would have worked, but by mixing the two Pogue creates a film that simply feels disjointed. The switched to Brian's footage also signpost that something spooky is going to happen, making otherwise shocking events seem predictable. That's not to deny that the film is effectively creepy, but it's the build-up, though slow, that is most effective. Once Jane's “possession” begins to fully manifest, events deteriorate rapidly, but are less powerful for all their shock value. The first major manifestation, a bizarre “teleplasmic” tentacle that reaches from Jane's throat, is a shocker, but looks ropey as hell. (And anyway, shouldn't that be “psychoplasmic?” Or did they not want it to sound too much like The Brood?)

The climactic sequence is undeniably powerful and distressing, as Joseph's attempt to cure Jane becomes increasingly desperate and Evie's power becomes more destructive. However, the final ending is crushingly predictable and frankly badly realised, and a poor ending can destroy the good work that went before it. Altogether, creepy and very well acted, but let down by an unambitious premise and lacklustre direction.

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