Movie: The Quiet Ones; Director: John Pogue; Studio: Lionsgate; Rating: PG-13; My finding: 3 out of 5 stars.
"The Quiet Ones" is one of the best acted, old-fashioned horror movies to be released in recent years, but the scares could have been greatly helped with more focused editing and faster pacing.
Jared Harris, the British actor of television's "Mad Men" and early antagonist in "Fringe," leads an ensemble cast as Professor Joseph Coupland, who conducts research in abnormal psychology at Oxford University in 1974. Early in the film, the university ends its funding of his latest "experiment," which is to remove what he believes to be a character created by troubled former foster child Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) as a scapegoat on whom to blame psychotic, poltergeist energies triggered by a dark past.
To help him, he enlists two university students, engineer Harry Abrams (Rory Fleck-Byrne, "Vampire Academy") and nurse Krissi Dalton (Erin Richards, "Open Grave"). But Coupland always feels that the project is on the verge of a breakthrough and wants to begin to document it. So he hires fledgling cameraman and documentarian Brian McNeil (Sam Clafin of the "Hunger Games" series).
This last hire makes for an interesting filming dynamic.
The film is split roughly in half between traditional filming and through Brian's lens, with increasingly poor quality film stock due to Coupland's not being well-off and having to fund the project himself after the university pulls out. In some ways it feels like a "found footage"-type movie in the latter segments, except it's not, because the viewer gets to witness him filming and editing the footage throughout.
Moving from the university setting, the team rents an old English estate on the outskirts of the Oxford area. The building, still regal despite slight disrepair, is the perfect setting for a horror film that's more about the things that go bump in the night than the gross-out or jump-scares of most contemporary horror films. There they lock Jane in a room and blare era-appropriate rock music to keep her from sleeping too much. When she's asleep, she won't be able to manifest Evie, the "doll" Jane has apparently created in her mind to harbor her paranormal activity, Joseph believes.
This wouldn't be a horror movie, though, if the good doctor Coupland's hypothesis on what's plaguing tormented Jane were correct. But he's narrow-sighted and has a troubled past of his own that fuels him in his pursuit of curing the woman. He won't entertain the idea of alternative theories and his constant belief of being at the edge of a breakthrough helps him in maintaining that his beliefs are correct.
Soon enough, though, that manifestation of woe takes a turn toward the Satanic and the team begins to fall apart even as Joseph becomes further entrenched in his beliefs.
The acting is phenomenal and Harris, despite being a recognizable face I have enjoyed in many different roles, embodies Coupland perfectly. He's so cocksure and diligent with a sly smile and true caring for the young people he's brought under his wing. In turn, the three young assistants shine in their own roles. Krissi is quite the sexual tease who loves nothing more than driving the men wild. Harry, meanwhile, is extremely happy to be working with the latest scientific implements - when he's not bedded up with Krissi. Brian is the concerned, quieter one who is uneasy about Jane being locked behind a closed door, and uneasy with the treatment she's getting as Harris and the other two poke, provoke and torment her into unleashing Evie time after time.
But it's newcomer Cooke, as Jane, who is the heart of the film. With her warm, big eyes and jet-black hair she is reminiscent of a younger, British Christina Ricci.
A scene while she's bathing and talking to Brian as herself without Evie is startling in its honesty. She has this thing inside her and has had it for as long as she can remember. It ruined her childhood, she thinks, and has kept her in asylums and away from experiencing the world as she should.
"When I look in the mirror all I see is a little girl," she said. "But I want to see a woman."
It's the moments like these where the acting and character depth are allowed to reveal themselves in a slow-burning manner that make the throbbing pace much more bearable. Just when you look down to check your watch you'll see Jane's eyes filled with hope for life and you can't help but not care that you're crawling through the experience with the characters as it winds its way through, seemingly without conclusion.
Special recognition should also go out to the sound editing team. Even during the quiet moments, there are creaks and then thunderous booms that rip you from the lulling pace and throw you, eyes wide and heart beating, straight back into the Evie nightmare.
The film will impress horror fans who miss deeper narrative and character in their films but will be less than thrilling for those who want to jump out of their seat and search the emptiness behind the action for the next jump.
(Flint McColgan is a staff writer for The Minot Daily News. His movie reviews appear in Thursday's Arts &?Entertainment section.)