When a crazed university professor (Jared Harris) and his team of students set out to cure a disturbed patient, the unthinkable happens. Trusting in their leader and his motives, Brian (Sam Claflin) and his fellow students find themselves far from help...and all too close to a sinister force they never suspected. (From Lionsgate’s official synopsis)
John Pogue’s The Quiet Ones (2014) is the latest in a line of new films from former UK horror giant Hammer. It is a typical ‘revival’ movie in its use of gothic traditions in modern contexts (though it is a period piece, its timeframe only extends back to the ‘70s). The script, by Tom DeVille (with rewrites by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, and Pogue himself), is (very) loosely based on a 1972 parapsychology analysis conducted in Toronto called The Philip Experiment and somewhat recalls classic era Hammer films, like Peter Sykes’ Demons of the Mind (1972) and To the Devil…A Daughter (1976). Unfortunately, the story is too wrapped up in a number of haunted house and ghost story clichés to be set apart from they busy field. The plot and characters are also disappointingly defined, despite oodles of expositional dialogue built into the premise. Strong performances (Jared Harris gets good and yelly) from the small cast (there are basically five noteworthy characters) and a speedy tempo certainly helps, ensuring the routine exercise moves along quickly and maintains entertainment value.
Pogue’s career is mostly defined by his work as a screenwriter on such unfortunate features as U.S. Marshals (1998), The Skulls (2000), and Rollerball (2002). His only other work as first unit director was Quarantine 2: The Terminal, which I haven’t seen, so I had no frame of reference in relation to his skill level. The Quiet Ones is certainly a slick movie. Pogue and cinematographer Mátyás Erdély compose attractive shots and use dynamic camera movements during low-impact, exposition-heavy sequences (of which there are many) without drawing too much attention to themselves. Editor Glenn Garland cut the slow and speedy scenes together with the same satisfyingly impressionistic pace, especially during the opening act, where all the pieces are laid out in front of us. The film has an excuse to occasionally switch over to a found-footage style without fully committing to the format, because the characters are recording their experiments using a 16mm camera. These scenes aren’t very effective on their own (mostly people pawing around in the dark), but Pogue and Garland get a lot of mileage out of cutting between the footage. Sadly, Pogue isn’t quite secure in his ability to execute a slow-burn thriller and peppers too many vulgar jump scares into spots where they aren’t needed. The bleak tone and melodrama works just fine without them.
The Quiet Ones was shot largely using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and is presented here in 1.85:1, 1080p HD video. As I already mentioned, the characters within the film are recording their experiments with 16mm cameras (framed in 1.33:1 and 1.66:1). I’m not sure if this footage is actually 16mm or not, but it certainly looks the part. Pogue and Erdély use shallow focus during the digital shots, which makes for a lot of soft, clean backgrounds and super sharp foreground textures. In contrast, the 16mm scenes are flatter with limited edge crispness and a number of film-based artifacts, like grain, dust, and edge haloes (they haven’t gone all out and shredded the film like Robert Rodriguez did for Planet Terror). The color schemes are deceptively simple, evoking the period setting (oranges, browns, blues), while also perverting it with green tints, golden highlights, and rich reds. The hues are occasionally plagued with low-level noise (usually in darkness).
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack has some super-spooky and explosive scare cues, but is sometimes very badly balanced between these bursts of sound and lower volume dialogue. It’s not only the startle moments that are keyed too high – just about everything outside of the center channels is significantly louder. I suppose the point is to trick the viewer into turning their system up to dangerously high levels to hear the mumbled dialogue, only to hit them with a speaker-shattering ‘BAM.’ It’s annoying. Volume discrepancies aside, this is a lively track, with oodles of directional influences – from the subtleties of floors creaking and doors knocking, to the blasting screams of spooky ghosts. Lucas Vidal’s musical score includes some symphonic and melodic elements, but is generally made up of impressionistic sound that builds between jumps.
Audio Commentary with Director John Pogue & Producer Tobin Armbrust
Welcome to the Experiment: Making The Quiet Ones (34:50, HD) – An extended EPK featurette that includes a number of cast and crew interviews. It traces the production history from screenwriting through casting, direction, locations, production design, and music.
An Ominous Opening (8:20, HD) – A look at the making of the film’s opening title sequence.
Deleted Scenes (12: 20, HD)
Gag Reel (3:30, HD)
Trailers for other Lionsgate releases
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