APRIL 24, 2014
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)
The remake of The Woman In Black was one of the more successful horror movies of 2012 (even topping that year's Paranormal Activity entry), but it's taken over 2 years for Hammer to come back with another film to help solidify their rebirth. Unfortunately, The Quiet Ones won't be as successful as that one; not only does it lack as strong a hook as "Harry Potter as an adult", but it's not quite as good either - and horror films haven't been connecting with audiences as of late. I'd really love to see Hammer make a big comeback and stick around for a while, but with intermittent releases and a spotty track record, it's gonna be a tough hurdle - especially with Blumhouse productions soaking up all of the attention (and our dollars).
Like all modern horror movies, this is based on a true story, which you should know by now means exactly nothing. The inspiration came from an experiment in Canada (not England, as the film depicts) where a parapsychologist attempted to prove that collective subconscious could "create" a ghost. Their results were somewhat successful, as it turns out, but the story as is wouldn't make for a particularly exciting movie - however I'm confused why they didn't at least use it as their jumping off point for their movie, which opts for more generic possession thrills and what may be a world record for jump scares built around SUDDEN LOUD NOISES!, rather ironic considering the title (which never fits the movie, so I assume it was just someone's idea of a joke).
Then again, it's very possible that the original script WAS indeed based more closely on the original story, as it was rewritten so heavily that it now carries a "based on the screenplay by" credit usually reserved for remakes (another bit of irony, since it's the first wide release new Hammer production that ISN'T a remake), followed by three separate writer credits including the director John Pogue. Add that to the 10 or so listed producers, and you can safely assume that this was a production with too many people adding their two cents, making it a miracle that it's even watchable, let alone "not that bad". I'd be curious to read that original script; I don't think being rewritten is a bad thing every time out (it worked out OK for Casablanca, and while I may be in the minority for loving Armageddon, I assure you that it's better than the earlier draft of the script that I have), and every now and then I caught a glimpse of what would be a much more interesting movie.
I can also assume at some point there was something meatier for Jared Harris to work with; he's the best thing about the movie by far but the more interesting elements about his character are mostly explored through throwaway dialogue (including a late reveal that should have been clarified in the movie's first 10 minutes - see THIS Film Crit Hulk column for a thorough explanation why, as it's similar), as if one or more producers were worried about too much time being spent on this "old guy" instead of the handsome lad from The Hunger Games or the cute girl from Bates Motel. Indeed, I was actually surprised he stuck around for the whole movie, I figured he'd give them their assignment and more or less exit the film, but he's there with them throughout the picture, actually earning his top billing. However, he spends a lot of that time making knowing faces and acting shady (and smoking! He smokes constantly), with the four younger cast members getting most of the fun stuff.
And they're fine; I recently saw a horrible movie about four college kids doing an experiment in an old house (The Ganzfeld Haunting), and in that thing the students barely seemed interested in what they were doing and too stupid to even fill out the college application, so it was nice to see that the three of them here (Olivia Cooke being the possessed one) were competent and more or less focused on what they were doing, save for some sex and the occasional addition to the movie's surplus of fake scares (there is one that actually works pretty well - a loud crash is heard but then one of the males runs out and assures the other that it was just the bed breaking from their sexual activity). Also, as I only know Cooke from Bates, it was nice to see her in a completely opposite role: unhinged, sexually aggressive, and dealing with heavy trauma - a far cry from her shy, reserved Bates character (also nice to see her whole face without a tube covering it).
But it's just so rambunctious! Hammer movies aren't known for their fast pace, and the science driven background of its plot led me to think that this would be something like The Stone Tape, but no - the movie races to get us to the first encounter with Cooke's character Jane, possessed by an entity named Evey that has a strange fascination with fire. And from that point it rarely quiets down for more than a minute or two; if they're not actively trying to activate Evey (they are trying to separate the two using scientific methods instead of the usual religious ones) they're shouting at each other about the previous scene, or there's another loud jump scare meant to jolt us. I was pretty sleepy when I went but the movie made it nearly impossible for even me to doze off (yes, "nearly" - I think I was out for a minute or two, but whatever I missed couldn't have been much since I saw everything that was summarized on the film's lengthy Wiki synopsis) because it was never far from another shout or bang (or loud volume reprise of the original "Cum On Feel The Noize" by Slade). The story goes to some rather grim places, and that sort of thing works better in a movie that has some patience - this one never really does.
As a result, the movie is fairly repetitive, since they hit the ground running even though there's only one target. Imagine if Merrin and Karras showed up at Regan's in the first reel and spent the whole 90 minutes trying to help her in her bedroom - that's pretty much what the movie is. They try to make contact, something freaky happens, our cameraman hero freaks out, the others reassure him, and then the process repeats. The changing POV doesn't really add much to the proceedings either; there are a few good bits where watching from the POV of the camera lends it an uncomfortable touch (particularly during a part of the climax where the camera has been dropped), but otherwise it's just a gimmick to somewhat add it to the found footage craze (I'd say about a third of the film is shown this way). Plus it's not always instantly clear when they're switching; the POV footage has some dust and specks added in to differentiate, but it's still all too easy to tell that it's just digital footage given some filters, and there isn't much difference in the frame size either (it goes from 1.85 to 1.66). Going black & white for these sequences would have made more sense, I think.
However, like I said, it's watchable and even somewhat entertaining. It's nice to see a non-religious take on a possession story, and Harris livens things up considerably, making it better than most of the year's genre fare almost by default. Like Oculus, I suspect it will play better at home (perhaps in an extended cut?), something I hate to say since obviously I want people to show up in theaters for horror films so that the studios continue to take chances on them - but that's sadly the case here. The intimacy of the 16mm scenes is somewhat muddled by being projected on a 40 foot screen, and even the stupid LOUD BANG! jumps will probably have a better effect at home when you're more comfortable. Here's hoping Hammer gets one of their more exciting properties off the ground (like a Captain Kronos remake!) soon, as that's the sort of thing that will almost assuredly be a better fit for the multiplex.
What say you?