Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Cinema File #354: "The Quiet Ones" Review

Hey, you know how when you think about Hammer movies, just casually as you do, you almost always think of the ones with Dracula or Dr. Frankenstein in them? Turns out, that's because the ones without them usually suck balls. Okay, I apologize to the four old school British horror fans out there somehow eclectic enough to love Hammer and immature enough to be touchy about it, but my God did they sometimes take moody and atmospheric to mean drop dead boring sometimes. Recently, Hammer has gotten back into the horror business, trying to revitalize a more, let's say classic style, for a modern generation, under the assumption that all it takes to make their slow moving Masterpiece Theater approach to horror relevant today is shoving in hip young actors like Daniel Radcliffe, or as in their latest effort The Quiet Ones, throwing found footage and exorcism movie cliches into whatever you call a blender in the UK (I'm guessing a Gentleman's Gentleman). It does not go well.

The Quiet Ones follows a team of 70's era British college students and their eccentric new agey professor on a quest to bring fringe science into the mainstream and prove that the supposed demonic possession of a troubled young woman is in fact a form of negative energy poisoning that they can identify and cure. "Save one person, save the world." says the professor, and because he's played by Jarred Harris with the same conviction and gravitas he brings to every performance, it may take you a bit longer than usually to realize that nothing he says about anything makes any sense whatsoever. The film jumps right into its central set up of a morally ambiguous experiment grappling with supernatural forces beyond understanding, but even though everything is basically established within the first ten minutes, it took me half the movie before I could figure out what the characters in the situation even thought they were trying to do, and then I realized they were trying to make British Carrie vomit up her telekinesis into a baby doll, and I cursed myself for even bothering.

And when she does it, it kinda looks like poop (or as the Brits call it, Dumbledore)

The metaphysics are muddled to say the least, but at the end of the day, I wonder if that's even supposed to matter in an extended mood piece like this. I guess there is always a contingent of people for any remotely high concept movie who need some expository dialogue even if it is completely bonkers and adds nothing to the story, if only to establish that someone knows what's going on, even if its no one in the audience. Still, the larger premise is at least somewhat interesting, though poorly executed. The main characters are ostensibly scientists, but consider themselves true believers, scoffed at by the stuffy traditionalists in academia for accepting the existence of paranormal forces, and yet it is their own inability to look beyond their definitions and acknowledge the possibility of more ancient explanations, magic and demons, that dooms them. Sure, psychic phenomena is real, but it isn't the Devil. That is, until its really bad CGI head starts jumping out of people and flying at the screen.

Oh, but don't let me confuse you into thinking that this movie is in any way exciting. Those few moments that in another, more well paced exercise might be called shocks are surprising and memorable only as a contrast to just how plodding and mind numbingly dull the rest of the movie is. There are jump scares littered throughout the film, virtually all of which fizzle before accomplishing their intended effect, as if the impatience of modern day horror cinema wanting instant gratification is chafing against the old school mentality trying to slowly build an atmosphere of dread, so that neither comes about properly. Add to that, the found footage gimmick is even more half hearted and ill-applied than it usually is in a thousand other marginally better examples, slipping in and out of a slightly different border scheme to let us know that now is the time for the creaky door or gust of eerie wind, because you're in the middle of the action now. Yeah, right; If only that sort of immersion were possible.

A couple of other film geeks and I currently have a sort of movie centric draft game going for 2014, where we picked five movies due out in the Spring and Summer seasons trying to net the most total profit, subtracting budget and excluding foreign box office. My strategy this year was to eschew the high risk, high reward big budget action stuff in favor of low budget horror, hoping that the next Conjuring or Insidious was just around the corner. Sight unseen, The Quiet Ones was second on my list after Oculus, and after seeing both, I fully understand why one proved so much more fruitful to my league than the other. While Oculus was refreshing, fun, and reinvented classic movie tropes to tell its story, The Quiet Ones seems to be trying to skate by on some vague nostalgia for an era of horror cinema that was seldom good even at the time, and only seems to be now because only the best examples of it have survived the test of time. Had it been made in the age that its style is trying to capture, it would have been cast to the dustbin of history, destined for those parts of Netflix streaming that few dare to dwell. So let's go ahead and just do that now, shall we?

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