Director – John Pogue, Screenplay – Oren Moverman, John Pogue & Craig Rosenberg, Based on a Screenplay by Tom de Ville, Producers – Tobin Armbrust, James Gay-Rees, Ben Holden, Simon Oakes & Steven Chester Prince, Photography – Matyas Erdely, Music – Lucas Vidal, Visual Effects – Gradient Effects (Supervisor – Thomas Tannenberger) & TPSC VFX (Supervisor – Gavin Whelan), Special Effects Supervisor – Scott McIntyre, Makeup/Prosthetic Effects – Paul Boyce, Production Design – Matt Gant. Production Company – Hammer Films/Travelling Picture Show Company
Jared Harris (Professor Joseph Coupland), Sam Claflin (Brian McNeil), Olivia Cooke (Jane Harper), Erin Richards (Krissi Dalton), Rory Fleck-Burns (Harry Abrams), Laurie Calvert (Philip), Aldo Maland (David Q)
Oxford University, 1974. Professor Joseph Coupland announces to his class his intention to conduct an experiment in getting a patient to manifest telekinetic phenomena. Brian McNeil is recruited to film everything that happens. They begin the experiment using the psychologically disturbed Jane Harper who seems capable of manifesting various phenomena. When the university elders shut the experiment down, Coupland and the team relocate to a country house. There Coupland pushes Jane to manifest the dark energy inside her and bring out the personality that she calls Evey. Brian finds an attraction to Jane and begins to question what Coupland is doing. When Evey and the phenomena that accompany her does finally begin to manifest, she proves far more dangerous than any of them anticipated.
My main complaint with the revived Hammer is that there is precious little about it that resembles that classic Hammer. An aging Christopher Lee turned up in The Resident but was the sole person involved who has any connection with the studio’s old guard. The Woman in Black was set in turn of 20th Century England but that is the closest that any of the films comes to the Victorian era that was staple of the Hammer heyday with all of the others being set contemporary (with the exception of The Quiet Ones‘ 1970s setting). Rather, the revived Hammer Films give the impression of merely using the brand name for its recognition factor and in all other cases going away and simply making the standard films as every other person dipping their toes in the horror genre today. The Quiet Ones comes from US director John Pogue who previously made Quarantine 2: Terminal (2011) and wrote the screenplays for U.S. Marshals (1998), The Skulls (2000), Ghost Ship (2002) and Rollerball (2002).
The Quiet Ones follows the path that a number of other ghost story/possession films of recent years have – that of making the claim to be based on a true story. See the likes of An American Haunting (2005), The Amityville Horror (2005), The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005), The Haunting in Connecticut (2009), The Rite (2011), The Possession (2012), The Conjuring (2013), Deliver Us From Evil (2014) and Winchester (2018), among others. In this case, the film makes the claim to be based on the so-called Philip Experiment that was conducted by a group of parapsychologists in Toronto between 1972-4 under Dr A.R.G. Owen. The experiment attempted was a very different one to that described in the film – the group theorised that all ghost activity was a projection of the human mind and so created the fictional figure of Philip Ayelsford who died in 17th Century England and attempted to make this manifest. Over a series of weekly seance sessions, the group were purportedly able to produce some table rappings and the appearance of a cool mist. The experiment caught attention – existing videotapes of the sessions can be seen on YouTube – while Owen’s wife Margaret later published an account of what happened in the book Conjuring Up Philip: An Adventure in Psychokinesis (1976).
Like all of the abovementioned ‘based on a true story’ films, what we see has been widely embellished from the so-called facts. The film has the experiment being conducted by an academic at Oxford University; the real experiment was conducted by a group of amateur parapsychologists with no academic affiliation and, while one of the group A.R.G. Owen held a doctorate, it was in mathematics, not psychology. The film has physical manifestations and levitations, appearances of ‘teleplasm’, objects violently thrown about, people being bitten and their hands burned, even apparently char-broiled in a bathroom; the most that was ever reported in real-life was a series of table knockings and movings, the dimming of the electrical lights and a breeze moving through the room. While the film has the entity killing most of the research team and the one survivor left in a psychiatric institution, in real-life the only means whereby any members of the team died was of natural causes years later. There was no troubled girl at the centre of the real experiment, nobody with any cult association and Dr Owen had no history of attempting to conduct the experiment on his own children; it was simply a group of researchers attempting to manifest a fictional entity that they had created. Even the photos over the end credits that we are led to believe are supposedly those of the real parapsychological research team are ones that have been fabricated for the film using modern actors in 1970s clothing. It may be worth noting the few facts that do correspond between the experiment and the film – it does take place in the 1970s; there is an experiment that involves a group attempting to manifest something from the unconscious; oh and the experiment was also filmed. There however resemblances endeth. An excellent article on the comparison between fact and film can be found here at History vs Hollywood.
What we have with The Quiet Ones bears so little in common with the true story (an experiment where the so-called evidence has been called into sceptical doubt anyway) that it should more accurately be regarded as an outright fiction. To this extent, there is no sense as you keep hoping in some of these ‘based on a true story’ accounts of paranormal incidents that the film might be paring away horror movie cliches and revealing a certain ‘truth’ about the phenomena. In reality, in almost all cases, what we have are films that pump up the rather unexciting facts with a good deal of modern horror movie theatrics.
The various burning dolls, ectoplasmic manifestations, ghost bites and so on may well scare somebody who hasn’t seen many horror films but mostly I found John Pogue’s direction run of the mill and only to come from dipping his hand into a barrel of well-worn horror movie tricks that we have seen a great many times before. That and the old chestnut of trying to scare an audience with amplified noises on the soundtrack. The eventual garbled explanations we get involving cults and abused children fail to make a lot of sense and feel like someone has robbed the explanatory basics of Silent Hill (2006). For me, the show started to collapse into ridicule about the point that Jared Harris bursts in to find Olivia Cooke trying to force herself on Sam Claflin and demands in a very proper British accent: “Take your hands out of his trousers now, please.”