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The quiet ones

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Hammer’s new offering; The Quiet Ones is a 70’s set tale of science vs religion and the perils of sweeping ethics aside in favor of fast results. The film poses questions about what physical and psychological traumas society is willing to put people through in order to find a ‘cure.’
profOxford Professor Joseph Coupland believes telekinetic ability to be a manifestation of mental illness. Jane Harper is all alone in the world, orphaned at a young age she has been shunted from home to home, only for each successive family to decide that there is something inherently wrong with her, (a condition she describes loosely as being dead behind the eyes) until finally she is interned in a mental institution. Joseph believes he can cure her. He and his small team of students; the idealistic and sexually voracious Krissi and Harry, along with Phillip; the bashful camera man they hire to document proceedings, perform mentally stressful experiments on Jane. Experiments, like the use of loud music to encourage sleep deprivation, annoy the neighbors and put the Professor in hot water with the powers that be at the University, who are left unconvinced about the merits of some of the more unsavory aspects of the study. The teams funding is pulled, but Joseph pushes ahead with his ideas in an unofficial capacity, finding a remote country house to use as a base. The more they push Jane the more her pain and anguish can be channeled into her ‘telekinetic’ episodes. Joseph starts to believe that if Jane can purge the manifestation into a doll named Evie then she will be able to leave it behind and be free. But problems arise when they discover that Evie might have different ideas about where to go and what to do once manifest.seance
The Quiet Ones is a film with an interesting topic at its heart; the use of science to prove or disprove the paranormal. The age of enlightenment had culminated in Darwin proving his theory of evolution which in turn shattered the notion that God had created the earth in seven days. At the dawn of the 20th Century the scientific community believed itself to be winning the ideological war of reason over religious dogma and superstition, but then an actual War spread across Europe. blith spiritThe First World War brought death to the door of almost every family [1] this created a huge interest in the concept of life after death and whether or not it was possible to contact those who had died. The Seance and the idea of communing with the dead became a popular past time in the inter and post War years, an interest that is reflected in films such as Ministry of Fear (Fritz Lang, 1944) and Blithe Spirit (David Lean 1945) where the seance is represented as a fashionable way to spent an evening.
The scientific community quickly realized that Paranormal investigation was in many ways the final frontier, the discovery of scientific explanations for ‘ghostly phenomena’ would result in a final disapproval of the idea of an afterlife. The 1970’s, when The Quiet Ones is set, was a boom period for the popularization of the scientific investigation of the paranormal on both sides of the argument. The film itself is in fact loosely based on a true story of a scientific experiment in which a group of Canadian psychologists [2] ‘invented a ghost’ by putting together a fictional history for a character and then attempting to contact it. The purpose of the experiment was to try to prove that ghostly phenomena is a result of the energy of living humans focused on manifesting the presence that their minds are focused upon. The experiment was allegedly successful with the participants experiencing knocking sounds and witnessing tables moving but unfortunately they were unable to commit their most compelling evidence to film.
The Quiet Ones makes a nice change from recent Paranormal films like the Paranormal Activity series where characters are quick to unequivocally accept that what is happening to them is supernatural with little investigation of any alternative, (The films can be taken as postmodern in the sense that the only proof needed that something is real is the fact that it can be captured on a shaky camera) and is a nice throwback to films like Poltergeist (Hooper, 1982) where discovery and investigation are an important part of the plot of the film.
Directed by John Pogue, The Quiet Ones is shot with a successfully unrelenting style focused on a use of unusually close framing of its subjects. The use of location and set design is very in keeping with the style of a Hammer picture. One the whole the characters are convincing, especially Jared Harris’s performance as the Professor who is both charismatic and convincing, but with a chillingly cutthroat edge. As is currently popular loud noise is used to create scares as much as atmosphere, but the use of documentary style footage is used more convincingly than in most instances.
janeAnother interesting theme of The Quiet Ones is the idea that sexual frustration is a powerful tool in manifesting Jane’s abilities. Krissi and Harry are a couple, (happy to have sex in earshot of Jane) but Krissi also enjoys secret liaisons with Joseph. Phillip, who in many ways is the protagonist of the film, (in so much as he is impartially voyeuristic and represents the allegiances of the audience) becomes infatuated with Jane and wants to protect her from Joseph. However he is also aware that becoming involved with someone who is so damaged would be unethical, and this dilemma leaves him impotent. At one point Jane has a dialogue with Phillip where she tells him, while she is topless in the bath, that men exist to tease women who they are unable to touch. Joseph also seems keen to slip in and out of Jane’s room although his purpose is unclear.
The problem with The Quiet Ones is that it ratchets the tension up and up but climaxes too soon leaving the plot no where to go, and the audience some what unsatisfied. The last third of the film is a bit of a jumble of ideas. There is an interesting back story with a mysterious first patient of Josephs, who appears in some of the most affecting images of the film, and who apparently grew up to reclaim his anonymity. I spent a lot of the film trying to guess who this might be, but in the end this turned out to be simply a red-herring. hallwayThere were two points on which the actual ending/s fell flat, firstly ideas about devil worship were tagged onto the beginning and the end, but were never clearly explained, devil worship is the kind of thing you have to go all out for throughout the plot. Lastly the final scene, the pessimistic ending which is currently de rigueur, feels frustratingly counter-intuitive. If the concept of the experiment was to manifest Evie the pay-off would have been for the audience to see the true face of the monster at the final moment.
Despite the above I still feel that The Quiet Ones is a relative success, and will no doubt also see box office success, it is clear that the film makers are trying to explore new themes and ideas as well as giving the audience a joyride which is half the battle these days. Hammer has managed to create a new audience and fan-base for its output and is proving itself to be as relevant today as it ever was, which is also nice to see.

[1] Source for this info is Leeds Wiki: https://wiki.leeds.ac.uk/index.php/HIST2530_The_Rise_and_Fall_of_British_Spiritualism#The_Effects_of_War

[2] Source is: http://rhinoshorror.com/2014/02/04/the-quiet-ones-and-its-true-story/

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