“The Quiet Ones” is anything but quiet.
It has people screaming, doors and walls being pounded, loud arguing and ear-splitting rock music. All this racket adds up to a standard but not standout spooky movie.
Said to be inspired by true events, “The Quiet Ones” addresses the issue of whether or not supernatural incidents are real or are just a manifestation of mental illness.
The movie takes place in 1974 at Oxford University in England, where Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris, who plays Lane Pryce in “Mad Men”), in his class shows old films of a case he worked on years earlier in which a boy apparently is under the influence of some spiritual presence. Joseph’s experiments on the boy, he said, were terminated when the child’s mother took him away.
Now, Joseph has another subject lined up, a teen girl named Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke, who plays Emma, schoolmate and friend of Freddie Highmore’s Norman Bates in “Bates Motel” on A&E). Jane, an unwanted child, has spent her life either with foster families or in institutions and seems to be possessed by a spirit she calls Evie. Joseph has drafted two students, Harry Abrams (Rory Fleck-Byrne) and Krissi Dalton (Erin Richards), to assist him with his experiments, and then hires Brian McNeal (Sam Claflin, who resembles a young Terry Jones from Monty Python) to film the events.
When Oxford cuts off the funding for Joseph’s project, he and the three young people hustle Jane off to an abandoned house – naturally – old and creaky, multi-level with numerous rooms, the perfect venue for ghosts and other restless and possibly evil spirits to engage in their unnerving activities.
Joseph’s theory is that he can get Jane to externalize this so-called presence through energy, and once it is drawn out can be harnessed, thus curing Jane of this mental horror. In the meantime, Jane is kept locked up in a room with blaring rock music piped into it, for reasons never explained.
With Brian hauling around a movie camera and filming, the handheld point-of-view element now can be used. Thankfully, unlike other POV horror movies, most of the footage in the movie is not what is seen through Brian’s camera.
“The Quiet Ones” is lifted by the casting of Cooke as Jane, who is a cross between Regan from “The Exorcist” and Carrie White from “Carrie.” She easily presents the most sympathetic character in the film, and ultimately, the most rational, and is a sobering sight – dressed only in a hospital gown, Jane is pale, constantly clinging to a doll, and is often drenched in perspiration or bloodied by self-abuse.
The electronic equipment used in the experiments to measure the energy emitted by Jane/Evie are primitive compared to what is employed now, and Brian is burdened with the movie camera that is nowhere near as compact as today’s models.
Brian also finds himself falling for Jane, something Joseph sees as potentially dangerous but also as tool is curing Jane. As efforts intensify to draw Evie out of Jane, this entity responds with increased violence. Soon all l three young people are having misgivings about the project. And as they begin to question the validity and results of the tests, Joseph evolves into the typical mad scientist role.
On the pretense of going into town to obtain more film, Brian goes to Oxford and does some research, learning the real story of Jane. When he returns to the old house to confront Joseph, everything is set up for the inevitable horrifying conclusion.
Director John Pogue, who wrote the screenplays to “U.S. Marshals” and “Ghost Ship,” working on a script he co-wrote with Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman, employs a lot of quick, easy scares such as sudden thumps and crashes, but the most effective moments are when the camera focuses in close on a seemingly sedate Jane with the unnerving sense that something terrible is about to happen.
“The Quiet Ones” is really a blend of earlier stories of nasty spirits and possession, so there is nothing original here. But the work of Cooke helps lift this movie — barely — out of the muck of run-of-the-mill ghost/possession stories. The scariest aspect of the movie is when the credits role and to the side are photographs of the real people who were involved in this ill-fated project.