"Welcome to the experiment," says seedy-tweedy Professor Coupland to his new documentarian, AV geek Brian. He doesn't add "Bwahaha!" to the greeting, but you can almost hear it anyway. For we had already started to suspect that the academic is a little bit mad and a little bit sadistic, with his cold approach to some quite disturbing matters. Also, he's Jared Harris, bringing his usual offhand creepiness to the screen in a new yet old-fashioned little British horror flick called The Quiet Ones. It's from legendary Hammer Films, which produced a slew of gothic chillers in the 1950s, '60s and '70s and has reemerged in recent years with movies that favor spooky atmosphere over blood and gore, most notably The Woman in Black.
Here, Brian (Sam Claflin) observes Coupland's attempts to cure his "psychotic" subject, Jane Harper (Olivia Cooke). At first sight, the treatment appears abusive: She is locked in a bedroom in a small house in Oxford, with a prison-like slot in the door for communication and food and rock music blaring loudly into her room. It looks like torture, but it transpires that Jane approves of her situation, meant to help keep her demons at bay. Are those demons real or imaginary? Coupland believes there is something scientific behind what appears to be Jane's demonic possession, and he is going to prove his theory and show all those scoffers back in the faculty lounge, bwahaha!
The year is 1974, and so Brian's documenting of the experiment happens via giant, clunky film cameras, some footage from which is shared with us. And though The Quiet Ones doesn't purport to be a Paranormal Activity-style documentary, director John Pogue's mix of straight-up narrative and faux found footage adds to the overall spookiness. There aren't many outright scares here, but once the experiment moves to a creaky old house out in the remote countryside, the old-fashioned Hammer Horror atmosphere cranks up. Bwahaha!