Monday, September 1, 2014

Experiment in Fear


"What did you expect? My head to spin around?" Debutant Olivia Cooke's performance is the highlight of Hammer's otherwise messy THE QUIET ONES. Similar to the 1970's era of Classic Hammer, where the studio struggled against an onslaught of progressive American cinema, the production ignores an interesting premise to portray a bias of shock.

THIS "Hammer production" actually encompasses five companies, five producers, and four screenplay credits. No wonder the result is uneven, illustrating a collage of styles from found footage to retro supernatural terror. The picture begins at Oxford University in 1974, where chain-smoking Professor Coupland (Jared Harris) - assisted by students Krissi (Erin Richards) and Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) - is experimenting on troubled Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). Coupland believes that the power of the human mind far outweighs any paranormal possibility ("you're not possessed, you're just unwell"), and the Professor hires cameraman Brian McNeil (Sam Clafin) to document events. But with funding suddenly withdrawn, the project moves to an isolated house where several manifestations take place and a scar on Jane's skin is unveiled. Brian researches the case of Evey Dwyer, a young girl raised in a satanic cult, but it transpires Jane is Evey, who unleashes her powers to murder the academics and leave Brian institutionalised.

The much overused "based on true events" tag here relates to an exercise set in motion during 1972 by the Toronto Society for Psychical Research. The members aimed to explore the Tibetan Buddist concept of "thoughtforms" by "willing" a ghost into existence. The group began by creating "Philip Aylesford", providing a backstory that he was an aristocratic Englishman living in the middle 1600's. After falling in love and concealing the gypsy Margo from his wife Dorothea, Aylesford commits suicide after being stricken with remorse by not defending his lover after she is burned at the stake. Initially meditating on the history of the character then holding séances, unsurprisingly there were no visitations, only an example of unconscious will within a proposed environment. This notion of a collective human hallucination is reduced to sensationalism for the picture: Jane/Evey not only seems to be mischievously channelling evil spirits akin to THE EXORCIST - after all, William Friedkin's tour-de-force was released in the UK in the year of the film's setting - but also sees the character emotionally lashing out in CARRIE vein, and a final third reverts to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY. At least the narrative makes effective use of Krissi's hot pants and Slade's 'Cum on Feel the Noize.'