In 2008, Hammer Films came back from the dead. Once famed for its Gothic and cult horror movies, the U.K. production company went bankrupt in the 1970s and lay dormant until a Dutch billionaire acquired the brand. Unfortunately, its resurrection has so far failed to strike fear into mere mortals’ hearts. Best-known for competently remaking Let Me In (2010) and casting Daniel Radcliffe as something other than a wizard in The Woman in Black (2012), the revived Hammer is hardly breaking new ground in the genre it once helped shape.
With its latest, The Quiet Ones, the company continues a tired trend, choosing the trite over the terrifying. The stale tone is struck from the outset with four simple words: “Inspired by actual events.” In a pre-The Blair Witch Project world, such a claim might evoke an eerie ghost-story feel. But 15 years on, the phrase is just another dull instrument in the standard horror-movie tool kit – one that director and co-writer John Pogue is clearly using.
After establishing this well-worn trope, Pogue sets the scene in 1974 at Oxford University, with the charismatic Professor Coupland (Mad Men’s Jared Harris) lecturing on the paranormal as his rapt pupils, decked out in wide lapels and plaid, gaze on.
One observer is AV tech Brian (Sam Claflin is nearly unrecognizable with a shirt on after his topless role in The Hunger Games: Catching Fire). With a crucifix prominently worn over his turtleneck or dangling in the deep-V of his shirts, Brian is clearly an outsider in this world of academia, and he questions Coupland’s adamant claim that the supernatural is only a product of the mind.
The professor, seeking to prove his theory, is working with two students on an experiment that involves a possessed girl, Jane (Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke), and he hires Brian to film their studies. Thanks to Coupland’s unorthodox methods (including blasting Slade’s Cum On Feel the Noize to deprive his subject of sleep – true terror), Oxford pulls his funding and the group is forced to carry on with the trials at an isolated country manor.
Here, Jane’s manifestations become increasingly powerful, but things don’t get much spookier. Between the first-person, found-footage perspectives, paranormal activity and the analog-chic time period (already done with last year’s The Conjuring), The Quiet Ones is uninspired “horror.” It’s less of a journey into darkness than into drudgery, and that’s amplified by the basic scare tactics (bumps, thumps and disembodied chuckles). Gore and nudity, old Hammer keystones, are nowhere to be seen as Pogue chastely cuts away from blood and boobs to keep a 14A rating.
Hammer might be back, but the studio sure isn’t hammering out anything that’s remotely horrifying.