RATING: 1.5 stars (out of 4)
If all horror movies that claimed to be “inspired by true events” were actually based on some semblance of truth, the world would look like the third act of Ghostbusters II, when the streets are packed with ghouls going about their business.
Unfortunately, The Quiet Ones is “inspired by true events” in the same way that your best buddy’s dubious Saturday night sexcapades are. Whatever truth was originally part of the story got washed away in a flood of boozed-out memories, boastful bombast, and outright lies. So about all that’s believable about this movie is that there is indeed an Oxford College, there was indeed a decade known as the 1970s, and the students and profs there did conduct dubious paranormal experiments. Everything else is too silly to take seriously in any way.
At least director John Pogue does a decent job of setting up a creepy tone. In an isolated boarding house, snooty professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris) rounds up some horny students and sets out to prove that there is no such thing as ghosts. His methodology is to trap an obviously-possessed doll-clutching girl named Jane (Olivia Cooke) and then harass her until the non-ghost that lives inside her skull starts poltergeisting stuff across the room.
Pogue figures that the ghost is just a part of Jane’s imagination, and once it’s exposed he can suck it out with a proton pack or whatever. Actually, he hasn’t even thought that far ahead. The whole point of Pogue’s weirdness is to lock everyone up with Jane while the electricity goes out and her invisible poltergeist flies around freaking people out, branding them like frat pledges, and locking them in and out of various spooky corridors.
You’d think after a night of these “experiments” gone wrong, the kids would show up the next morning begging the prof to sign their drop forms. But no, the three dumbest students ever to enroll at Oxford just keep hanging out, thinking that maybe another night or 10 with a psycho, murderous spirit will be just dandy.
The kids are a trio of stereotypes: BMOC Harry (Rory Fleck-Byrne), coquettish Krissi (Erin Richards) and adorkable Brian (Sam Clafin) are there to be the Fred, Daphne and Shaggy of 1970s England. They all look upon their mad scientist-style boss with suspicion, but give him enough of the benefit of the doubt to keep the movie going. If this were set in modern times, their tolerance for getting nearly killed every night would make a little sense, because you could believe college kids would be willing to endure any supernatural catastrophe in the name of a solid Instagram shot or YouTube clip, but there is little reason other than idiocy for these students to stick around.
Light on the special effects and heavy on suggestion, The Quiet Ones aims for a high-minded, arty feel. The suspense works well at points, but flops when it goes for cheap, schlocky horror moments–complete with jump-scares augmented by shrill musical cues. There are also way too many cheap shock scares meant to make you giggle at yourself.
It’s tough to make a serious-minded, frightening horror movie, and Pogue and company seem so aware of that fact that they aren’t even willing to try. The Quiet Ones is a slow, tepid and ridiculous waste of time, and its sellout PG-13 rating doesn’t even soften the blow with gratuitous sex or gore. This isn’t good enough to be a weekend night movie, nor bad enough to be a midnight movie. It’s more like a 3 a.m. movie you use to drift off to sleep.
Starring Jared Harris, Sam Claflin, Erin Richards and Rory Fleck-Byrne. Written by Craig Rosenberg, Oren Moverman, John Pogue, based on a previous screenplay by Tom de Ville. Directed by Pogue. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13.