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Posts Tagged ‘John Pogue’

I very rarely go and watch a modern horror movie. Virtually the only thing which will get me out of the house for one of these things, if we’re completely honest, is the involvement in the production of the current incarnation of Hammer Films, a studio I have been an enormous fan of for most of my life. Hammer’s current revival shows no signs of running out of steam, happily, which is why I trotted along the other day to see John Pogue’s The Quiet Ones.

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As usual, this is a Hammer horror with a period setting, though the period in this case in 1974 (the producers have missed the opportunity to show the characters going to watch Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires at the cinema, and instead establish the timeframe by simply playing Cum On Feel The Noize every time someone switches on the radio). The story concerns slightly louche academic Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) and his determination to put the study of poltergeist phenomena and associated mental problems on a properly rational footing. To this end, he and his students are intent upon encouraging a troubled young woman (Olivia Cooke) to manifest the psychokinetic forces she has long been a martyr to, so they can be properly studied and then safely vented. Or something. To be honest, the professor’s methodology struck me as a bit vague from the start, but then again you just know this sort of experiment isn’t going to go according to plan.

Along to document the proceedings is youthful cameraman Brian (Sam Claflin), who soon finds himself developing an emotional attachment to Jane, the test subject. This is an issue, but then so are developing tensions within the team, Coupland’s obsessive determination to prove his theories, and the fact that everyone is full of ideas on how to summon up a poltergeist, but hasn’t really thought about how to then get rid of the damn thing again…

It does sometimes occur to me that my devotion to the latterday incarnation of the Hammer marque is a little foolish, given it is little more than brand name with no material connection to the glory days of Michael Carreras or Terence Fisher. However, I feel justified in making a point of seeing each new Hammer release simply because they are generally pretty good movies (the rotten American-made The Resident being the sole dud to date this century). I have to say that The Quiet Ones is not up to the standard of The Woman in Black or Wake Wood, but then neither is it a waste of time.

Putting my thoughtful-analytical-cultural-historical hat on (it’s a big hat, obviously), The Quiet Ones is an interesting attempt to blend some of the classic tropes and themes of British horror (mostly TV horror, it must be said) with a modern transatlantic approach to the genre. The plot distinctly recalls things like The Stone Tape and Ghostwatch (claims that this is based on true events are spurious; particularly as the film-makers seem rather evasive as to which true events they’re talking about), while stylistically the film does make its obeisance to Hammer of the past – Jared Harris gives a proper old-school Hammer central performance as a rather untrustworthy scientist; you could easily imagine Peter Cushing or Andre Morell in the part. The younger actors are attractive but mostly bland, which I suppose is also a bit of a Hammer tradition (Cooke, I should say, is an exception: she is genuinely good in a part where the temptation to ham it up must have been considerable).

On the other hand, when it comes to generating scares The Quiet Ones adheres with great devotion to the formulae of many modern American horror films – especially the quiet-quiet-quiet-LOUD trope. The fact that the protagonist is a cameraman sets us up for a lot of quasi-found-footage, too, which I found a little bit tedious (especially as it’s established that none of the footage survives to get found in the first place). But I suppose you can’t blame the studio for following the market, and the mix between the classic Hammer motifs and the modern tropes is handled fairly deftly.

But is it scary? Well, there are plenty of jump scares, but these are mechanically achieved and not particularly noteworthy. The ideas of the film are not especially original – to be honest, some of them were well-worn back in the time when this film is set – and the plot really lacks the strong central hook of its most obvious sources. As a result, the film is technically competent but not really engaging or memorable. The climax is pleasingly overwrought, but there’s a definite sense of the denouement unravelling rather than unfolding.

Still, as I say, this is a competent modern horror movie that isn’t too hobbled by its obvious low budget and features some very accomplished performances. It should do okay for the studio. That said, most of the recent Hammer releases have been either spook stories, psycho-thrillers or folk horror – what chance a proper monster movie, guys? But in the meantime, a film like The Quiet Ones is no disgrace to the House of Horror.

 

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