What if science could prove that people who appear to be demon possessed are actually manifesting supernatural-like power themselves via telekinetic energy impulses emanating from an unstable mind? In The Quiet Ones, Oxford University psychology professor Joseph Coupland is determined to prove that hypothesis, even as his test subject's dramatic—and increasingly violent—manifestations prompt those working with him to think that maybe, just maybe, they should consider alternative explanations.
It's 1974, and Joseph Coupland has recruited three idealistic young students to be his assistants in what's repeatedly dubbed "the experiment." Harry is an engineering major with a knack for rigging up scientific sensors to document spikes in electromagnetic energy. Krissi offers a modicum of medical science experience. Brian is a budding filmmaker who signs on as documenter.
The patient? One Jane Harper, a hauntingly glassy-eyed young woman with long, limp hair whose tragic trajectory involves being shuttled from one well-intended foster family to another. Her eerie paranormal outbursts have, for obvious reasons, proven to be more than anyone is willing to deal with.
Anyone except Prof. Coupland.
In fact, he's vigorously trying to trigger those outbursts at a remote estate where there will be no interruptions and no neighbors to complain about Jane's frequent blood-curdling screams. The good professor is conducting what can only be called a secular scientific exorcism as he coaxes Jane to completely transfer the "evil" energy within her mind to a doll.
In an iamrogue.com interview, actor Jared Harris (who plays Coupland) says of the film's loose relationship to real-life events, "The original circumstances were more of an inspiration. It's not technically a literal docudrama or anything like that. It's a fiction. The original circumstances inspired the writer's imagination. The premise behind the original experiment and the premise behind the movie are really the same. What is the supernatural? What is its source? Does it exist? The experiment was really trying to see if they could replicate what people consider to be supernatural happenings and purely generate them from a human agency, if you like, from the human mind. In the original experiment when things started to go awry or turn sinister, the person in charge would stop the session and send everybody home. They decided that they were not going to go down that road. But obviously in our movie, which is a horror film, the opposite happens and we put an irresponsible person in charge of the experiment, someone who opens Pandora's box when he should be leaving it alone."
[Spoilers are contained in the following sections.]
Harry, Brian and Krissi eventually become genuinely concerned about what's going on with Joseph's experiments and take at least tentative steps to stop them.
The movie opens with a montage of medieval art depicting demons. In class, Prof. Coupland asks who believes in God, heaven, hell, the apocalypse and ghosts while denouncing all of them as superstition. Thus, his solution for Jane's "condition" is to repeatedly inject her with drugs and use things like strobe lights and psychological gimmicks to shock her out of her delusions.
What's wrong with Jane—she says she's possessed with a supernatural entity she's named Evie—manifests itself with some seriously potent powers. Bangs and bumps in the night are supplanted by occult symbols appearing on her flesh and a grotesque "tongue" of blood she lashes out with. Brian says he doesn't really know what he believes about God, but even he is finally convinced that Jane is truly possessed. He knows she needs spiritual help Joseph can't provide. He researches the symbols carved into Jane's skin, and he digs up info on a 7,000 year-old cult with Sumerian origins.
All the while, Evie's manifestations grow more and more sinister. They begin with run-of-the-mill poltergeist-y stuff: doors slamming, furniture bumping around, etc. Then things get much more serious when Jane burns her doll with her bare hands, for instance. Possessed, Jane isn't conscious of pain, a state of being the professor cruelly tests by burning her arm with a candle. Evie tosses Krissi hard against a wall and boils the water in Krissi's bathtub. The demon whips Krissi and Harry around a room, ultimately killing them. It burns demonic sigils into not only Jane, but Brian, Harry, Krissi and the professor as well. When Evie finally manifests physically, Jane is consumed by fire. Then, as Brian watches in horror, the evil spirit rushes him, burns him … and possesses him.
Jane attempts to seduce Brian by disrobing. (We see her bare back.) Later, Brian films Jane in the bathtub. She stands up, and we see a brief and partial glimpse of her bare breasts. Possessed by Evie, Jane pounces on Brian and tries to take his pants off. Brian and Jane eventually kiss, and Jane wants to go further. (Brian says they can't until she gets better.)
Krissi frequently wears halter tops and short shorts. We see her bare back as she gets into a bathtub, then the side of her breast when she jumps out. She has an ongoing sexual relationship with both Harry and Joseph. After she entices Harry to go to bed with her, Brian hears them having noisy sex. Two scenes show her in bed with a blanket covering her assumedly bare body; Harry is shown shirtless. She kisses and cuddles with Joseph.
We hear that Jane has repeatedly tried to commit suicide. She carves runes into her thigh and pokes herself with a hairpin, generating quite a lot of blood. Brian stabs her doll in frustration at one point, prompting her, voodoo-style, to do the same thing to herself. (There's more blood). Multiple scenes involve fire, which eventually burns Jane up completely.
Krissi and Harry face their dismal ends as they're picked up and hurled about. We see Krissi shoot into the air, then hear a series of thuds and screams as she's smashed into walls. Later, we see blood smeared all over those walls. Harry gets bashed in the head and yanked partially through a door.
Joseph's hand gets viciously bitten. He hits Brian in the head with a cricket bat before locking him up. After Brian escapes, the two have a massive, brutal—fatal—brawl. Jane and Krissi brawl as well. We see the dead bloody body of a young boy.
Crude or Profane Language
One clear f-word and one more that's muffled and indistinct. Three or four s-words. God's name is taken in vain about 10 times, twice with "d‑‑n"; Jesus' name is abused four or five times. We hear one to four uses each of "bloody," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑" and "b‑‑tard."
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jane has a syringe of adrenaline rammed into her chest twice. People smoke and drink champagne.
Other Negative Elements
It seems at first that Joseph is selflessly determined to help Jane and, by extension, millions of others who suffer her fate. As the story unfolds, however, the professor is revealed to be merely narcissistic, egotistical and deceptive. He's also a ruthless bully driven by a deep-seated need to assuage his own guilt over something that happened years earlier. In many ways, Jane is grossly objectified and abused as the subject of his "experiment." She's imprisoned in a locked room, and Joseph often fails to treat her with any sort of basic human dignity.
Joseph's a liar and Brian returns the favor by stealing his files.
Perhaps the most sadly poignant thing about Jane Harper's tormented plight is how vulnerably she describes it to Brian early on. "I promised Joseph I wouldn't try [to commit suicide] again, that I'd give him more time," she says. Then she asks Brian, "Is there time? Can he cure me? … I just want to get better."
Plenty of people who aren't possessed can likely relate to the way Jane articulates her predicament: We long for the time and space to deal with the things that torment us. We want to "get better." From a spiritual perspective, it's a longing for salvation, for deliverance.
Alas, there is neither salvation nor deliverance in The Quiet Ones.
God is never a factor in Joseph's attempt to deliver Jane from the spiritual evil within her. At one point, he urges, "Peer into the darkness. There's something there with you." There is—but the professor's plan is powerless to deal with it.
Instead, it's just a matter of time before Evie consumes everything. The only "survivor" is Brian, with Evie now lurking inside him. It's a bleak end to a disturbing film that delights in "documenting" a demon's horrible power, all the while insisting that neither science nor religion is able to rescue the damned.
That means that while The Quiet Ones certainly implies that a scientific stance alone isn't sufficient to deal with the supernatural, God's hope and healing aren't anywhere to be seen either. All we're invited to do is "peer into the darkness."