Close Up: Horror Film Analysis: The Quiet Ones (Pogue:2014) By Hayley Rodgers
Films can be subject to analysis by taking into consideration factors such as narrative, characterisation, mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound. Horror based genre films can be analysed using this format.
Normally there are certain aspects of a horror film that can be identified through generic codes and conventions, for example the haunted isolated house, weapons, and masked antagonists are often viewed as common recognisable tropes. In terms of the horror genre, there are different themes that can be found within films and can revolve around elements such as the supernatural, monsters as villains and the slasher narrative.
The common tropes and themes that run through horrific narratives are often used to create and incite fear within the audience, but simultaneously attempt to thrill and entertain them. However, different sub-genres and horror hybrids can mix and play around with these conventions, an example being the genre-mash up film Shaun of the Dead a hybrid of comedy and horror which somewhat mocks typical horrific conventions and films. The British film Kill List is another example of a genre mash-up as the film can be described as a violent and shocking family-drama-crime-horror film with war, social realist and religious themes.
The Quiet Ones
The Quiet Ones is a British film directed by John Pogue and produced by Hammer Films Productions, an iconic British film production company that was founded in 1947, known for its gothic horrors during the late 50s to 70s. Hammer attracted audiences through ‘X’ ratings, with films such as The Quatermass Xperiment, deliberately spelt incorrectly to highlight its extreme rating to audiences.
Furthermore, the studio used explicit violence and sexual themes to compete with other films, seen through The Curse of Frankenstein, Dracula and Lust for a Vampire. These particular texts pushed boundaries with their explicit and extreme material. The company recently revived its horror brand with the films Let Me in and The Woman in Black, along with The Quiet Ones. The film revolves around a Professor (Jared Harris) and his students experimenting on a young woman Jane Harper in order to prove that poltergeists and the supernatural are created in the psyche.
Narrative and Themes
An analysis of The Quiet Ones can be interesting as it generally abides by many stereotypical horror genre conventions.
The films main theme concerns the supernatural/paranormal elements surrounding the main character Jane, but also involves religious undertones, particularly with the threat of religious cults. A typical narrative structure for horror films is the three-act structure: set-up; confrontation; resolution. The first act involves a set-up of the characters and the films premise. In The Quiet Ones this can be seen as the audience are introduced to the main characters Jane Harper, Professor Coupland, and Brian McNeil and their reasons for being at the University, eg. Brian is a cameraman who is pulled in for the experiment to film their findings and participant, Jane. The second act brings the drama to the foreground and the obstacles the main characters face.
The film becomes tense as Jane’s actions become increasingly unexplainable, and characters begin to get hurt with emphasis on the scares and supernatural happenings. The third act is the resolution to the previous conflict and often involves the final battle between good vs. evil, with the equilibrium being restored. The Quiet Ones follows this to a certain extent as Jane attempts to rid herself of the evil that is in her. However, the twist at the end shows Brian demonstrating supernatural powers in custody, and therefore evil has not necessary been defeated. The three-act structure is a good basis to start with when analysing a film, particularly from the horror genre, as well as assessing a films main themes.
Generally in horror texts there is a main protagonist and a main antagonist. The Scream franchise is an example of this, as a masked antagonist or multiple antagonists are seemingly always chasing the female lead, Sidney Prescott.
In terms of the characterisation in The Quiet Ones, the main female lead is an interesting one to analyse, as she fits a typical horror genre mould, but also breaks it as she is both a protagonist and antagonist. Jane is a 19-year-old woman who has the ability to create ‘supernatural’ phenomena and although she is pinned as the ‘other’ and often dangerous, she is very likeable and blurs the line between good and evil, much like the Professor. Without revealing the ending, it becomes apparent that Jane does in fact have powers and has used them for evil in reaction to how she has been treated throughout her life. The characterisation of Jane as a powerful woman in comparison to her male leads is a key point to analyse. Her strong characterisation harps back to that of her female antagonist predecessors from films such as Ringu, as the young character Sadako wore the same long untamed dark hair.
In terms of her role as a strong female antagonist it can be seen that this characterisation separates itself from previous Hammer films. In iconic Hammer productions such as Dracula, there is a clear patriarchal structure where the women seem powerless in comparison to the men, and the females are seen often as victims or powerless subordinates and/or sexual objects. However in Lust for a Vampire we can view the female as powerful in comparison to the male as it is the female who is the vampire hounding its prey. Therefore, Jane’s characterisation in The Quiet Ones as a solely dominant female lead is interesting, and although it has been done before in many films, her control over the main male characters, both young and old in the film is an enticing dynamic, and seems to be a role reversal of the dynamic in Dracula. Furthermore, it could be argued that her dominant characterisation makes her more of a threat as she is in control of all the characters and she can choose to harm them on her own terms. Although she is 19, it could be argued that the film uses the genre convention of children being used as horrific objects. There are flashbacks to a young male character that experiences similar supernatural powers as Jane and is shown as a horrifying threat.
Mise-en-scene encompasses what is in the film frame, and mainly includes: setting, props, costume, colour and lighting. The Quiet Ones has two main settings. The first part of the film is set at Oxford University where the first act of the three-act structure is set. We meet the main characters and the premise of the journey. This choice of location marks the ‘Britishness’ of the film, along with the choice of notable British actors such as Jared Harris.
Later in the film the audience are introduced to an abandoned, run down and isolated house where the main characters stay for the duration, and are shown various establishing shots of the building throughout the second and third act. Establishing shots are used to set the scene as they demonstrate the location where the action is taking place, but can also help establish the tone of the up and coming scene. For example, the establishing shot of the old abandoned house is shown in near enough darkness, creating a particular ‘dark’ tone indicating horrific events will occur throughout the next scenes.
In horror films props can be used to create fear within an audience. For example, a bloodied weapon clearly sets the horrific tone, but can also become synonymous with a particular character. In Shaun of the Dead, Shaun is the protagonist with his own recurring weapon, an old cricket bat. In The Quiet Ones a particular standout prop is Jane’s doll that she uses to connect with the supernatural evil that she believes is controlling her. Dolls have been used to create fear before in films as their inanimate quality can be brought to life and can make audiences feel uncomfortable. Furthermore, their child-like quality and as an object from many peoples childhood, they arguably tap into that of the ‘safe’ and are made into unsafe, threatening objects. See, Poltergeist, The Conjuring, Saw and Child’s Play.
An analysis of the costumes and make-up used within horror films can indicate certain themes, eras and who people are. In The Quiet Ones the clothing and costumes indicate the era the film is set in, which is the 1970s, along with props, green and yellow colourings and music to help ‘set’ the film.
Lighting in horror films can be used selectively to set a particular horrific tone. The use of selective bright lighting can be used to create shadows in darkness, and helps create the ‘fear of the unknown’ by only highlighting certain elements in the frame. Low-level lighting is often used to create a creepy atmosphere; the darkness can make it harder to see what will happen next, and can therefore make the audience feel vulnerable and scared (cue a paranormal spirit jumping straight towards the camera!). In the film this can be frequently seen as Brian’s camera light is often used as the main source of light, which creates shadows and only highlights small sections of the frame at once.
The cinematography of a film encompasses the photographic factors, such as, the position of the camera, the colours used, as well as lighting, and framing and sometimes the special effects used.
The Quiet Ones mainly uses a hand held camera/ point of view camera technique. This gives us the feeling of seeing the action through the main character of Brian who is the cameraman during the experiment. The hand held motion also creates an uncomfortable and uneasy feeling for the audience, as the movements are often jittery and fast. This technique allows for certain horrific elements to be ‘unseen’ as the camera is free moving. In a particular scene where the camera abruptly flies out of Brian’s hand we as the audience are shocked as the P.O.V camera creates the feeling that your own viewing through the camera has been torn out the audiences hands and disturbed. This use of hand held cameras is similar to that of Paranormal Activity and the innovative, The Blair Witch Project.
In horror texts, a lot can be gained from an analysis of the camera shots and angles used. In keeping with the idea of the protagonist/antagonist and victim/villain narratives the use of different angles can be used to show a characters position in the film. The villain will usually shot at a low-angle, with the camera below them looking up as this creates a sense that this character is important and to be feared. Whereas, a high-angle shot would make a character look vulnerable and if it was shot from the killers P.O.V it shows that they are next to be hurt. Tilting the camera is useful in horror texts as the frame then becomes distorted, and therefore can create a sense of unease within the audience. Tilt framing can also be used as the P.O.V of a victim on the floor, with a low-angle shot of them looking up at the antagonist. In The Quiet Ones close-up shots of Jane Harper are used to create fear and unease about her character by focusing on her pale sweat dripping face, accompanied by the shaking handheld camera. Furthermore, shots tend to be close and linger on Jane as we are seeing the story unfold through Brian’s eyes essentially. These techniques although us to sympathise with her.
The use of special effects can be discussed in terms of cinematography. These are elements added in post-production, and in horror films are often due to the involvement of monsters or supernatural elements. In The Quiet Ones, this can be seen when an unexplainable phenomena which is almost monster like, exits Jane’s mouth during the experiment. This accompanied with the grainy handheld footage and camera work creates a horrific scare moment.
The use of sound in horror texts can be an important and effective way of creating and building tension and suspense. The use of diegetic and non-diegetic sounds can both create a dark tone, and build a horrific atmosphere. Examples of this in The Quiet Ones can be analysed from a particular scene involving camera man Brian looking for Jane. He enters the house with the framing of the camera showing Brian in the corner of the frame, with the rest filled with the shadow filled interior with candlelight. Throughout this sequence there is no non-diegetic sounds added. The scene is silent apart from the use of diegetic sounds of doors being opened and unlocked, and footsteps, which are extremely exaggerated. These diegetic sounds are abrupt and loud, creating a discomfort for the audience and slowly building up tension to a ‘jump out your seats’ scare moment.
Follow Up Questions and Additional Resources
The Horror genre is a wide heading and can be split into various sub-genres. Depending on the titles that you are studying your expectations will be different. These differences will then play out via the micro elements that can be used to analyse a text.
Does the title begin to help you form expectations about the possible content of the film? Does the name of the director or the studio or star have a similar function?
Thinking about one or two key scenes, can you see where your expectations were met in genre terms? Were there any sequences or elements that stood out for you because they made you jump or were different from your expectations?
If you answered ‘yes’ to this, think carefully about how this was achieve? Was this achieved? Via sound, elements of mise-en-scene?
For a comprehensive overview of analysing the genre try the following resources:
Analysing Horror – By Dr Emma Austin
Understanding Horror – 3 part documentary resource with supporting website.