The Quiet Ones (2014)

q12016.76: The Quiet Ones (Film Four)

Its  another October horror film, and this one’s a horror for all the wrong reasons.

Its an odd one in so many ways. Partly it’s a period film, of demonic possession obviously inspired by The Exorcist, albeit with a more scientific bias akin to Altered States (I know, I know, at this point it actually sounds like it might be interesting), and its also one of those found-footage character POV films like Blair Witch Project and the early REC. films. Its a weird combo that doesn’t really work. It certainly doesn’t need any of that found-footage nonsense – the conceit of all those found-footage films is that they are based on camcorder footage or webcams etc, which is a hard sell set in the ‘seventies with a character lugging around film reels, projectors and a bloody big film camera. The whole point of that found-footage movie genre was that thanks to modern everyday technology they were somehow realistic/rational, setting it up in the 1970s is a bit of a stretch.

So the film is basically about a  young girl, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke) who is either mentally ill or possessed, and is the subject of experiments by obsessed Oxford professor Joseph Coupland (Jared Harris chewing up the scenery like a storm) who rather than subscribe to paranormal explanations such as demonic possession, rather subscribes to it being a quantifiable mental or physical disorder that can be extracted and cured. Cue all sorts of mad scientist cliches as Coupland refuses to ‘see’ anything that doesn’t agree with his own hypothesis. Of course being a modern horror film there is no pretense of ambiguity here, which is a pity, as the central drama is interesting. A film about scientists arguing about what they believe/reason/see from differing perspectives while all sorts of strange shit is going on, a sort of horror-themed Altered States, would indeed be very interesting and possibly quite challenging had it stayed ambiguous and possibly even inconclusive to the end, but filmgoers don’t like ambiguity or having to come to their own conclusions. So instead, and this being, at its heart, very much a Hammer film, its fairly obvious to everyone but the characters in the bloody movie what is actually going on.

It doesn’t help that, on the whole, none of the characters are particularly interesting. There’s all sorts of varied relationship nonsense amongst the ensemble which adds nothing to the story other than padding out the running time. The period setting doesn’t in itself have any importance either, other than perhaps making the science basic enough to maintain the ‘mystery’ a little longer (we don’t have the internet or mobile phones to make life awkward for the screenwriters).

Which is really the confounding thing about it- why indeed set it in the ‘seventies (lots of period pop songs infect the soundtrack if only to enforce the period setting) and why bother with the found footage nonsense if it’s so technically awkward? You could tell this story in the present-day and still get away with it. Maybe its all a ruse to maintain a ‘based on a true story’ subterfuge to keep audiences hooked. I don’t know, but none of it really works. Ambiguity is lost and things become increasingly literal and obvious as the film progresses towards its non-climax. Well, I say non-climax; its loud and violent but it’s quite emphatically non-involving.

A rather sad stumbling block then for what was a promising Hammer revival.

 

To The Devil A Daughter (1976)

devil12016.74: To The Devil A Daughter (TV Airing)

Until the recent revival of the studio’s fortunes, I believe that To The Devil A Daughter was the last Hammer film produced for theatrical exhibition. Its had a pretty poor reputation, but it wasn’t this film that ‘killed’ the studio- the damage had been done long before this film was released to indifferent/scathing critical and popular response.

I must confess that when watching it, well, the first half quite impressed me. I think it was all the location footage, not a dodgy gothic set in sight.  Indeed it seemed quite an atypical Hammer horror, set in contemporary times and in real-world locations with some quite interesting cinematography. Losing the period gothic sensibilities of so much Hammer output felt like something of a culture shock though. The film was clearly an attempt to ride on the success of films like The Exorcist, being an occult horror (ostensibly based on a book by Dennis Wheatley) set in the real-world with much of the old Hammer gore and titillation  lacking (there’s one moment at the end, when Nastassja Kinski undresses as a temptation to Richard Widmark’s character, that ‘feels’ like a proper old Hammer with a bit of fire in its veins, but it’s hardly a momentary diversion). It feels like an Hammer film lacking its own identity- if it had maintained the gore and sexual intimations/nudity of the Hammer classics but brought that to the real-world scenario here, then it might have been more successful. As it is, its pretty lacklustre, a horror without real bite, almost more old-fashioned than the Hammer classics of the 1950s and 1960s.

Oddly, it features a birth sequence (and a rather weird reverse-birth dream sequence) that prefigures the chestburster of Alien but it is presented so ineptly it looks funnier than it does scary, perhaps a sobering reminder of what Alien might have been had it not been handled so well with an A-list director and budget.

devil2What really sinks To The Devil A Daughter is the script. It doesn’t seem to have one. Instead it seems to have rough ideas and plot-points, like an early draft that needs refining. Characters come and go and there are hints at a Satanist cult/mystery with Christopher Lee looking menacing, but really it doesn’t make a lot of sense and, crucially, the film lacks a credible conclusion. It just ends. Its really quite bizarre and the film-makers must have known they were in terrible trouble when they had the final edit. The big bad devil-worshipper Christopher Lee just… vanishes… off-camera too. He’s just there, has a stone thrown at him, and then he’s gone. Its appalling. Its as if no-one had quite finished that last page of the screenplay… it was just blank, and they kind of went with it. I’ve seen some crazy non-endings but this one is quite maddening.

So frustratingly, here’s a British horror film that might have been something great but ends up rather pretty terrible and forgettable. Most everyone seems embarrassed to be seen in it (besides Nastassja Kinski, who seems to be enjoying herself regardless) and the effects boys had a budget more akin to a BBC Dr Who show of the time. It needed more time, a proper finished script and a bigger budget to manage the films obvious aspirations to be a British answer to The Exorcist. Instead it is really poor, and cheap. A sad end really. At least with Peter Cushing in Richard Widmark’s part it might have been a bit fun.