Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Oxford Files

Year: 2014
Director: John Pogue
Cast: Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Olivia Cooke
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

As my friend Hunter Allen commented on my Xanadu review, I've been having a pretty dreary September. Disappointment after disappointment have abounded, whether it be the squandered potential of As Above, So Below, the meandering non-plot of Love Is Strange, or the repugnantly dull chintziness of the aforementioned experiment in psychological warfare starring Olivia Newton-John.

Now, I wasn't expecting Hammer's revival film after The Woman in Black to be a stellar piece of genre-defining genius, but the fact that it fails to be even halfway decent, barely even stretching itself to a quarter-way decent, boggles the mind. Some would ask why I expected any good output from the man who directed Quarantine 2: Terminal, but I maintain that I like that movie considerably more than its predecessor, a queasy shot-for-shot (except where it counts) remake of my favorite film of all time.

Toss in the fact that The Quiet Ones was kept on the shelf for two full years before its release and I suppose it's easy to see why the film couldn't technically be considered a disappointment - it was destined to be putrid from the very start.

"But movies with gratuitous bathtub scenes always end up so good!" says nobody.

Professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) has several problems, the most damaging of which is that he is a character in The Quiet Ones. But he's also hitting several bumps on the road to disproving ESP and paranormal activity once and for all. His experiment on Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) - a young woman who is being haunted by a ghostly entity from within - has had its funding pulled by the board at Oxford University. However, he is adamant that he can prove that her haunting is merely a telekinetic expression of mental illness that can be expunged. He insists he will succeed despite his disastrously erroneous assertion that "if you cure one patient, you cure them all."

In addition to spitting on the grave of Sir Francis Bacon, his hobbies include having students do all his work for him and appearing in doorways whenever anybody says something even remotely dramatic. Although he has been forced out of his Oxford location, he brings Jane and a team of student researchers: Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne) - a handsome Irish lad, Krissi (Erin Richards) - a horny blonde who's aiding the experiment on a lark, and Brian (Sam Claflin) - a shy camera operator, to a remote mansion for further assessment.

What ensues is a blisteringly odd mishmash of too-shaky found footage, too-slick 1974 period piece, and the most jaw-droppingly tedious and generic "possession" story ever inflicted upon the public. 

One clichéd example before we move on. In an early sequence - in which footage from a previous case file is played for the students - a young boy (who deserves an Oscar) somehow manages to not burst into hysterical laughter when uttering the most hyperbolically inane moniker for a ghost in recorded history - "The Man That Makes Things Happen."

Ah yes, my old nemesis, The Man Who Teaches Knowledge to Others.

I suppose being generic isn't the worst thing for a movie to be. When two roads diverge in a yellow wood, it's not a sin to take the road more traveled. But when the yellow is as washed out and drab as The Quiet Ones and punctuated by nauseatingly oversaturated swaths of green (we're talking about color palette now, by the way. Don't get lost in the confusing and twisty forest of my metaphor.), it really doesn't seem like a journey worth taking.

The grubby yet tactile colors jar with the slickness of the cinematography itself (every cut and angle and composition is a little too stagey and high definition), occupying a strange, interminably ugly middle ground that pushes you out of the movie with the force of a kangaroo kick.

Some visual examples:





Characters wander in and out of this repellent world repeating the same conversation over and over until some of them die. It's staunchly unscary, yet overwrought - especially in a too-early shock scene that overextends itself in an attempt to frighten, trips over a snag of internal logic, and tumbles into the rest of the plot, jumbling it into an incoherent mess.

My easiest comparison is the controversial "spider walk" scene in The Exorcist. Those who don't know about it can read about it here if they wish, but let's leave it at this. It's a tremendously creepy scene but it comes too soon in a slow burn narrative and displays powers the demon never uses again, even in the climactic moments. So it was cut out of the theatrical release to ensure the sanctity of the story.

The Quiet Ones leaves all that mess in with relish. To be fair, it's the only even mildly unsettling part of the entire affair, but the damage it does to the third act (which is already busy picking at its own logic with sado-masochistic glee) is irreparable. The whole thing is irritating nonsense, beginning with Sam Claflin living in a barn outside a mansion with presumably dozens of empty rooms, continuing with a doctor carting around incriminating video tapes and a film student suddenly gaining detailed medical knowledge, finally culminating in an explosion of twists that coil onto one another like an out-of-control frozen yogurt machine.

No matter how hard they pretend, there is no meaning to be found in all of this. Just pure agony, boredom, and disappointment. It's a shame to see the legendary Hammer Studios fall on such hard times, but if this is the output we can continue to expect from them, maybe they should return to dormancy.

TL;DR: The Quiet Ones is a pitiable wisp of a horror film - woefully tedious and not scary in the slightest.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 985


  1. I propose a simple division of labor: you do bad movies, and I'll do good ones. Everybody wins!

  2. Agreed. But The Men Look Good So The Rating Gets At Least A 4