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The Quiet Ones Prove Loud and Obnoxious
The latest horror film incorporating found footage should've stayed lost.

It appears that found footage as a cinematic narrative device is here to stay.

Despite the fact that even the exemplars of the genre (your Chronicles and Cloverfields) have a devil of a time justifying the logic behind their use of hand-held cameras long beyond the point at which sane people would set down the camera and try to survive, these films persevere. The Quiet Ones is at its best when it dismisses this trope (it switches between in-camera found footage and a 'real' cinematic world). Although even at its best, it remains a dull and derivative piece of work. It is the refuge of horror films that contain nothing unsettling to merely pummel you into submission with jump scares stacked atop each other like a wobbly Jenga tower, and all that The Quiet Ones does to refine that system is to ironically refute its title – these are the loudest jump scares that I can recall in recent memory. And the most for that matter, giving the movie the cumulative effect (and staying power) of walking through a moderately-effective haunted house staffed by ghouls and goblins all sporting megaphones. There are brief glimpses of inspiration – setting the film on and around Oxford University in the mid ‘70s allows for a period flavor not usually associated with found footage (creaky 16mm is the weapon of choice). Having its professor and student assistants characters actively courting the evil spirit throughout (under the guise of an experiment meant to prove that the mentally ill manifest these paranormal events themselves) give the film an aggressive instead of passive energy.

The film engenders a fair bit of goodwill by casting Jared Harris (best known as Moriarty from the recent Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows or Lane Pryce from Mad Men) as the Oxford professor behind these experiments. He's able to sell lines like, “Please remove your hands from his trousers” or “Perhaps it was ectoplasm” with relish. While his Mephistophelean beard and constant shots of him ominously leering clue us in early as to which direction we're heading in, Harris is so talented that you're willing to join him on such a clichéd journey. It seems that the role of 'possessed girl' is frequently becoming the juiciest get for young actresses in Hollywood, allowing for a vast spectrum of emotions that being the disapproving girlfriend in a generic comedy doesn't, and Olivia Cooke does fine work with that role here. Whereas the other young actors do little to differentiate themselves, Cooke is able to play all facets of her possessed Jane Harper with equal aplomb – be it the character's budding sexuality, emotional fragility (if you took a shot after every jump scare combined with every crocodile tear that slides down her face you would be dead) or brief flashes of unbridled mania.

But even blessed with these gifted performers it's hard to get past how craven the entire enterprise feels. Credited to three screenwriters “based on” the screenplay of another, it feels like the premise and execution are catering to current trends instead of trying to forge new ones, the results of focus groups and studio meetings instead of creativity and inspiration. You have your creepy doll, period setting and focus on 'scientific' means of measuring the paranormal all straight from The Conjuring and then you go ahead and add found footage on top of that? It feels unnecessary, as you could change Sam Claflin's Brian McNeil character from the camera operator he portrays here to some other menial role without skipping a beat. This however implies a higher level of commitment to crafting something genuinely unsettling instead of the obnoxiously loud diversion we're stuck with. Just remember to bring earplugs.



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