If the stock concessions made to genre cliché by The Woman in Black can be charitably viewed as deliberate tips of the hat to the heyday of Hammer Films, then John Pogue’s period-set exorcism yarn The Quiet Ones more interestingly upends those tropes. The story, concerning Oxford professor Joseph Coupland’s (Jared Harris) attempts to tease out the malevolent entity that appears to reside within young Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke), may be trite, but it’s enlivened by the perpetual state of inquiry affected by the preponderance of analog equipment used to record and assess a series of possibly supernatural occurrences. Throughout, as hunky cameraman-for-hire Brian (Sam Claflin) records the story’s hauntings on equipment that feels as bygone as the dodo, perspective is reframed with every shift in aspect ratio, and sometimes as unnervingly as the strange goings-on that may or may not be the handiwork of the not-so-quiet Evie.
Though Pogue has a propensity to cheaply cut to effusively noisy activity, such as the popping of a champagne cork, he’s an elegant framer of even the most mundane action, orchestrating the film’s consistently chilly unease from a series of unassuming jolts embedded in the humdrum. From a radiator that blows its top to a van door that gently opens after the professor and his troops walk into a manse-cum-research-facility in the country upon being evicted from their rooms at Oxford, coincidence is creepily propped up as the film’s possible Big Bad. In one particularly effective scene, a flirty exchange between Joseph and one of his lab assistants, Krissi (Erin Richards), outside of Jane’s room is fraught with an agonizing tension that’s rooted in the possibility that Jane, or Evie, or an especially tenacious combination of the two, could pull some part, if not all, of the golden-haired Krissi into her room through the door’s ominous window.
Much is made of the nature of the professor’s experiments and the conflict between his weird science and religion (“The onus is on the scientist to prove himself,” he says), none of which is deepened exactly by the revelation of his true relationship to a young boy once haunted by an entity known as Mr. Gregor. And though The Quiet Ones does plod when its focus shifts to the walking vanilla pudding pop played by Claflin and the sleuthing that leads him to one last obligatory reveal, there’s a certain cunning to the finale’s fiery staging as a coming-out story of sorts. Paralleling an earlier scene in which Krissi calls out Joseph for his misogyny, as if speaking for every woman in the Hammer Films canon, the film torches the sexist notion that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, correlating self-acceptance with the severity of Evie’s hauntings and propping up its horrors as a selfless expression of a once-invisible girl’s sense of agency.