Friday, May 9, 2014

The Quiet Ones


**½
 
My wife and I were the only ones in the theatre to watch The Quiet Ones Thursday night. I guess that’s telling because I noticed that it hasn’t set the world on fire since its release. As I was watching it, The Conjuring did come to mind a lot. Both films take place in the 70s, have young adults (and older adults to guide them), and take place primarily in creaky old houses sitting in the middle of countrysides where it takes a nice drive to get back to civilization. Both have dark forces at work, manifesting, and harming those who attempt to put an end to them. Some of The Conjuring and some of The Quiet Ones left a good impression but neither was altogether satisfying. I kept hoping The Quiet Ones would take it to that level of suspense The Conjuring at times was able to but it never quite reaches it sadly. There are pops (like hands clapping to signify “chapters” in the film, a cork coming off a bottle of champagne, the bulbs of the house exploding, a character lifted off the ground and thrown against walls, intense scratching down walls and across floors, etc) and jump scares as expected. Olivia Cooke of Bates Motel is the guinea pig for Julian Harris’ experiments (he hopes to isolate and destroy “negative energy” perhaps introduced to mentally ill at a young age which manifests in a destructive form tormenting them) while camera operator Sam Clafin starts to feel concerned that she is being victimized and put through hostile situations more than a bit morally and physically questionable (like the use of a candle to possibly drive out “Evie” from Cooke, loud rock music to keep her from sleeping, often keeping her locked up in a room, keeping food from her, conducting exhausting hypnosis and intense light sessions and evaluations, etc). With Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne as students of Harris (Richards is having sex with both Rory and Harris) also involved in the experiments, as you might expect they eventually provoke Evie to show itself and wreak havoc on them all. Harris has secrets that soon surface involving a former patient (a boy disturbed by a “boogeyman” he supposedly was introduced to in a children’s story) that is closer to him that first believed (merely mentioned in one of his class sessions as an experiment) inspiring him to push the boundaries in regards to Olivia. He wants so badly to be successful that what is actually unleashed may instead manifest itself (and he may not be able to execute it once it is “set free”).

Researching a specific occult symbol Evie caused Olivia to carve into her body and on a doll Harris wants her to send the negative energy, Clafin soon discovers that she may actually be a conduit for a demonic presence conjured by a cult that perished in a fire possibly produced by a girl within their group. How Olivia may be linked to that cult could be the answer to all that is transpiring.

That is all I could do to explain the plot. My wife was frustrated by the developments of the plot, left rather bewildered after it was over. I gave her the best explanation I thought I could provide, and this was it. The movie is really about a slow burn descent into unraveled terror and chaos. Harris pushes for Evie to exit Olivia but she seems content with keeping her with her. Harris is desperate, obsessively so, to pry Evie away from Olivia so he can prove to himself that his theory is accurate even though events that continue seem to prove quite the contrary. Provoking evil to leave someone could invite a shitload of trouble.

I felt the PG-13 rating does this film some harm. Two deaths in the house are left primarily to our imagination but seemed to be quite violent and bloody but because the rating demanded it to be left off screen, they fail to impact. There’s also potential for titillation again left to our imagination and carefully presented not to show anything but hint at activity (a bed breaks as two are having hot sex, bodies sitting in bath tubs narrowly escape showing nakedness, the girls are often scantily clad or disrobing). There are plentiful “what’s that sound or bump in the next room?” and Olivia is made to creep us out. Olivia’s eyes are dark and her face, while at times beautiful, is mostly wringed of joy, with her left quite weakened. Stuck in a room and the last years (moved from foster home to foster home, doctors studying her a common occurrence in her childhood years to determine what help she needs or if she is a danger to herself or others) etched on her person and behavior, Olivia is painted as damaged goods, perhaps a hopeless cause Harris will further deteriorate. Deciding to avoid the limitations of found footage, this is instead similar to The Conjured in that this has situations shot on camera but the characters are expanded upon beyond the confines of what is seen within the realm of Clafin’s lens. Capturing Evie’s activity and how Olivia is affected because of Harris’ methods, the film uses the camera has a story-telling device without totally devoting itself to just that particular way of showing the developments as they build to the release of flames at the end as everything spirals out of control.

It doesn’t surprise me that this hasn’t been successful for Hammer. This kind of film reeks of past prologue where all that has came out before it has influenced it to such a degree that not much of The Quiet Ones feels fresh or all that imaginative. Characters still go into the dark despite every reason to do just the opposite, and the door to Olivia’s cell is sometimes opened when it would not be wise. Calling upon something scary to emerge, believing that it would be harvested in a doll kept by Olivia, only for Evie to have other plans is obvious plotting but it questions logic for wanting to do so just as a way to “debunk” the idea of the supernatural. Still it was a nice big part for Harris who has been reduced to character actor supporting cast bit player at this point in his career, and that drive and motivation to see the experiments of his professor ultimately eliminate what causes mental illness is a lot of fun to watch develop. By film’s end, Harris is nearly unhinged and won’t let anyone stand in his way. There’s the budding romance of Clafin and Olivia, of course, but such a potential for any form of a normal relationship appears unlikely. I hope Hammer can produce a success eventually, because I want them to stay in business. However, Hammer needs to put out something that brings that name a level of prestige their fans can get behind. At least this film went old school with its period flavor, attempts to take us into a different time and place, with camera film stock mimicked as if The Quiet Ones (and the activity shot by Clafin) were shot in the 70s, and a reliance (for the most part) on past “Boo!” methods without totally depending on CGI for all parts involving Evie. The use of computer generated fire is still here, but the score, sound design, and ways the camera does or doesn’t show Olivia try to produce chills without too much dependency on what is designed in a room by those that might be employed at Skywalker Ranch.

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