Screenplay by Craig Rosenberg and Oren Moverman and John Pogue, based on the screenplay by Tom de Ville
Directed by John Pogue
Jared Harris: Professor Joseph Coupland
Sam Claflin: Brian McNeil
Erin Richards: Krissi Dalton
Rory Fleck-Byrne: Harry Abrams
Olivia Cooke: Jane Harper
Oh, Hammer. I'm glad you came back from the dead. I really am. I'm glad that I get to see your logo on the big screen (and have done so four times that I can recall off the top of my head). But you gotta get your shit together. This one was rather muddled in several ways, and the occasional totally boss reveal doesn't make up for its various deficiencies. I'm not saying I won't go see your next theatrically released film (although if you make another sequel to The Woman in Black, will you please change the plot up a little bit?); I'm just saying that you can't coast on your brand name forever. I'm pretty sure most of the American audience, at least, wouldn't know you as Hammer Studios, the place that's been making classy and awesome horror movies for six decades, but rather "the guys who did that ghost woman movie with Harry Potter". I like to think of your films as the clever, moody alternative to most horror output, but when the movie-production arm of the WWE is doing creepy, subtle work about a cursed mirror you've got to step up your game or you're going to wind up on the ash heap of history. And nobody wants to see that happen again.
So. On with the show.
The opening credits show woodcut illustrations an alchemist or priest forcing a demon out of his afflicted patient's mouth and other drawings of demons interfering with various people , as well as the promise that the film is "inspired by actual events". That's a promise that is so vague it might as well say "Screenplay written down before people said the dialogue" or "film projected at 24 frames per second". It also, distressingly, makes me think that Hammer wants to go to the Amityville Horror "true facts" well, which is not a promising sign so early in the film. The woodcuts give way to photographs and movie frames, and the promise of some kind of academic psychological experiment going on (there's a "consent for experimental treatment" form from Oxford University that gets a series of choppy closeups along with the goat headed figures and pentagrams).
Then there's the first shots of the film, where a young woman trying to sleep in a locked room has Slade's "Cum On Feel the Noize" blasted at her, startling her awake (this was a track that entered the singles chart at #1 in the UK and Ireland in 1973, so for British audiences it'd be a huge marker of the time the film was set--in the States it went all the way to #98 on the Hot 100 so not quite so much to anyone in the Colonies). Elsewhere, a student filmmaker uses his hands as a makeshift clapboard in footage that another student is editing on a cumbersome setup that would have been rather state of the art when the movie takes place ("Oxford 1974" according to the onscreen caption. Professor Joseph Coupland is giving a lecture in a supremely uncomfortable-looking lecture hall about the supernatural--which is great, because it's a Hammer movie and I don't want the first few minutes eaten up with discussions of oncology treatment or flint knapping techniques of the middle neolithic age.
I should point out here for the readers who don't know it why a clapboard was used in sound filmmaking. The movie camera captured the pictures of actors and scenery at 24 frames per second while someone else with a boom mike would capture the sound, which would be recorded onto a tape reel separately. The clap of the board snapping shut for a given take was the easiest way to synchronize the picture and sound during editing. When you have the film lined up with the soundtrack perfectly, the noise of the clapboard will occur precisely on the one frame where it's been shut by a production assistant.
Back to the film. Coupland points out that "it must be some kind of divine or demonic cause" was a common response among people in the Western world before the scientific method of the mid sixteenth century brought about the revolutionary idea of seeing if something was true before teaching it (NOTE: Methodology not available everywhere below the Mason-Dixon line). He's got a student running his A/V setup, including slides and a movie projector, to give the students something relevant to look at while he's telling them about the spirit world (which nobody taking the class believes is a real thing in 1974). I bet we're going to find out that he's just some random weirdo off the street and this is supposed to be a marine biology course.
The film-within-a-film reveals David Q, a pseudonymous patient of Professor Coupland's from some time ago (and parenthetically, when I saw this in the theater I didn't realize the kid's last name was a pseudonym, thinking that he was named David Kew. This led to some confusion later). The footage shows David drawing "Mr. Gregor", described not at all worryingly by David as "the man who makes things happen". David looks at the camera and a hanging lamp falls from the ceiling, startling the unseen camera crew--and giving the audience its first clue that this will at least partly be a found footage horror movie. I've got nothing against found footage, incidentally. It's like CGI or metacommentary in films. If the people making the movie know what they're doing, they can produce something of real value and lasting merit. If they're hacks, it's going to suck. Thankfully, using the found footage as part of the narrative but not all of it in this film means that the question "why the hell are people filming this when they should be running for their lives?" never gets asked.
Coupland has a theory that I now recognize as a lift from The Legend of Hell House; he wants to show that "supernatural" just means "unexplainable by our current puny Earth minds". He thinks that poltergeist attacks are actually just currently unquantified abilities that all people have--that the subconscious mind and the powers that aren't necessarily under the control of the person manifesting them are creepy and weird, but as explainable as the chemistry behind plant fertilizer. Of course, if he's going to win the Nobel Prize for parapsychology, he'll have to give incontestible evidence that it's possible to trigger a poltergeist episode, and that means finding someone who can be provoked into wrecking up the place with their mind when under stress. And showing repeatedly that it's possible to cause someone to throw a psionic tantrum, which can get extremely dangerous if you're not careful. Think of all the bookshelves that fell on Bruce Campbell over the course of the Evil Dead movies.
One of the students calls Coupland a traitor for the David Q footage, which I don't understand at all. But the professor tells his angry defensive students that it's all cool--the scientist has to show proof of a claim like the one he just made, and then he says that curing one patient is the same as curing all mankind. I'm not sure about that completely, but then again I'm not a Hammer Studios parapsychologist. One of the ways the film effortlessly establishes a period tone in this scene, incidentally, is that Professor Coupland has a cigarette in his hand while teaching. His suit and tie don't look nearly hideous enough but I'm willing to let that slide because that means I don't have to look at it.
After the class, the professor takes the time to tell his skeptical student that he's always welcome in the class even as the other young men and women are griping to him and then takes a small group off for a private meeting. Brian McNeil, his slide projector wrangler, is a film student who is supposed to make sure the documentation of the experiment is something Coupland doesn't have to worry about while he's doing it. "I hope you don't scare easily" is not the most comforting thing to hear when you know you're going to be helping someone work as a Ghostbuster, but it's a valid point. Brian says he's a natural filmmaker, feeling natural looking through an eyepiece. He's not religious and isn't sure about the supernatural one way or the other. Thankfully "I'm not sure" is a perfectly valid thing to say and he gets the job as official person who has to get all the forthcoming crazy shit on film.
Brian's footage of the other students assisting Professor Coupland reveals just as much about him as it does about them--one big point is that Brian isn't actually a student at Oxford. He's just a person hired by Coupland to assist him in class. Medical supervisor Krissi Dalton refers to the prof on a first-name basis (either out of familiarity far beyond what one would expect in an academic relationship or just to make Brian feel a little worse about his social ranking), smokes cigarettes in an FDR-style holder, and had a life too calm and pleasant to be a fitting subject for the paranormal experiment (but will do fine as an assistant). Coupland has someone "truly psychotic" that is also willing to serve as a subject for his ongoing program--one assumes in hope of a cure, if she really does have the occasional supernatural events going on around her.
That subject is Jane Harper, first viewed in Brian's footage hooked up to some kind of brainwave-reading machine, saying that she sees a little girl but that it could be a doll. Whatever it actually is, Miss Harper says the entity's name is Evey, and Jane doesn't like her. It looks like Brian got hired because the previous cameraman needed to work on getting more than one person in the shot for sequences like this--going back and forth between the professor, the subject, and other people in the room makes the shot look like a spectator at a tennis match. Not having a wide shot when the radiator pipe bursts means that the shot adds to the panic and disorder while the other lab assistants scream and dash about (though Coupland stays calm and tries to keep everyone else calm as well). And it is no doubt significant that Jane said she just wanted to sleep right before the pipe broke.
Jane's been kept from sleeping for quite some time, according to a wall-mounted chart being worked on by Harry Abrams, another lab assistant. The method is pretty simple--whenever she is observed getting ready to sleep, someone turns on the tape with "Cum On Feel the Noize" on loop so she can't rest. The door leading to Jane's cell opens only from the outside and is fastened with three bolts--supposedly for Jane's protection as well as the experimenters. Harry fills in the backstory as he fills in the sleep chart, saying that their subject is suicidal and amnesiac, having bounced through the foster care system through various houses. Each one gave her up after eerie things would happen in her presence. Other people said Jane was possessed, but Professor Coupland ran a battery of tests that showed Jane's EEG waves were much more active than human baseline. When Brian peeks the camera in through the observation portal he--and we--get a brief glimpse of the experimental subject wrapped up in a blanket before she flops out of view, hiding from the camera..
Turns out there's some ground rules for the experiment that Brian needs to know (perhaps he should have been told them before going to get film of Jane). Coupland tells him not to look in Jane's eyes or talk to her if it's at all possible--apparently the professor is worried about contaminating his results and he wants Jane kept as isolated as possible so that the poltergeist stresses can be triggered. Brian's job is to record, not to influence. The professor and his two real students will be in charge of the actual contact with Jane. Brian tries to stick to the plan but screws things up pretty much immediately the first time he goes into Jane's room; he apologizes for upsetting her and learns that her psychokinetic episodes flare up and die down on their own schedule (and doesn't get that on film, because he's compromised by his emotions when he sees the pretty girl in obvious emotional pain locked in a room--he's a bad one-man film crew but a decent human being).
The shot where Brian first sees Jane's face is pretty cool, by the way--she's looking in a mirror and he sees her from behind and looks at her face at the same time. She's got scars on her wrists from a previous time that she tried to get the manifestations to stop, but promised the professor (who she calls Joseph as well) that she wouldn't do that again. She wants to know, of course, if the Professor Coupland can cure her, and Brian doesn't know but tries to be as reassuring as he can. The one thing Jane really wants is to get some sleep; she begs Brian to ask Coupland for time to rest. Then she goes through a display of two or three different emotions in about four seconds while Brian flees her room and triple-locks the door from outside. Professor Coupland sees Brian and gently chides him for his reaction; he also points out that Jane has to be significantly more frightened than Brian is at this point.
In Brian's next footage, there's unseen neighbors complaining about the professor--I'm sure nobody else in the vicinity likes hearing Slade played really, really loud whenever Jane starts to nod off, so they do have a point. After that found-footage interlude, we get Brian asking the professor what exactly he's trying to do with all the music blasting and keeping Jane on edge and traumatized. Coupland says that Jane is the best chance he has of triggering and controlling (or eliminating altogether) the poltergeist phenomenon. "Cure one patient, cure mankind," and all that. He views it as cutting out a tumor on a parapsychological level. The two students sass Brian for being an unbeliever but a pair of bobbies show up with a noise complaint and the professor has to go mollify them before the conversation can really get going.
Brian's footage continues--Krissi presents Jane with a doll that Professor Coupland says she can use as a focus for all her "bad thoughts and negative energy". Perhaps the doll can be used as a spiritual battery, but I don't think it's a good idea for someone to fill any inanimate object with bad vibes. I'm sure somewhere else in the Hammer vaults there's at least one film that stresses what a bad idea that can be. If not Hammer, certainly Amicus or Tigon. It also looks like Coupland is infantalizing his charge, since it's a toy meant for someone with an age in single digits and Jane looks like she could be going to classes at Oxford if it wasn't for the whole "occasional poltergeist episodes" factor holding her back. She says the doll is dead and hands it back to Krissi; also, apparently, "Evey" the spirit doesn't look anything like the toy Jane was given. We also get some backstory from Jane about how awful it was growing up the object of fear in her various foster households. She says she wants to sleep permanently, which might just be exaggeration depending on just how long they've been keeping her awake. Especially if she's tired of listening to Slade.
Harry says he's in it for the science in the next found-footage segment. Somewhere in there Brian either found a tripod or he's learned to lean against a wall for greater shot stability. The interview gets cut short by a blood-curdling scream and Harry and Brian beat feet upstairs to see what's going down. This is one way the found-footage parts of the movie work--Brian's still filming because that's his job. Jane's busy smashing her doll against the wall over and over like she's trying out for the Blood Meridian re-enactment society. But even with her shrieking for help and at the end of her rope, her blood pressure is completely normal. She asks Brian (and the viewer, thanks to the way Brian serves as an audience within the film) for help, but there's none to be had.
Back with the main cast, we learn that Professor Coupland was studying abnormal psychology--which meant that he was the James Randi to every two-bit "I am totally doing magic poltergeist stuff" Uri Geller to be found in England at that phase of his career. Then he ran across David Q, who was capable of causing things that science could not explain--which just meant that scientists hadn't studied the phenomenon properly. He shows Brian and the other two students black and white footage of David Q, head shaved and connected to giant, uncomfortable-looking leads. When prompted to talk about "Mr. Gregor", his imaginary enemy, he flips into self-harm and his face distorts on the old footage (which frightens Brian, one assumes because he knows how to fake something like that and doesn't see any evidence of it). According to Coupland, David was getting better but his mother stopped the therapy and took him away. That chat session is interrupted by more police outside and someone in a bow tie who refers to the professor as "Joseph". We don't see what happened at the tribunal where the professor faces down a review board of seven men in official academic dress, but we do see him telling Krissi and Harry that they have to move Jane somewhere else because the experiment isn't being funded by Oxford any more. Coupland curses the academic board for cowardice at the top of his lungs while the trio of younger assistants exchange nervous glances. He offers Harry and Krissi a chance to bail if they want and Brian says he can order cheaper filmstock in order to keep things going.
One van ride to the countryside later (with Jane blindfolded to prevent her from knowing exactly where they're going) the group arrives at a big remote house while Professor Coupland asks everyone to pose on camera outside the rented living space.The rear van door opens by itself during this sequence, but nobody's around to see it happen because they've all gone inside (and that's our first clue that Jane really can do things with her mind). While Brian starts unpacking all the gear he'll need for filming, Krissi finds that there's no telephone service to be had. Once he's got his camera loaded and ready there's time to explain what's going on. Harry has five electromagnetic frequency scanners set up--if there are any weird fluctuations in the electromagnetic spectrum in the house he'll be able to spot them and that data will help Coupland with his experiment.
One hopes that whatever they're looking for is actually measurable on that scale. If it isn't, the whole thing will look like a failure because Coupland designed his protocols badly, not because there's nothing to find. Though it also turns out that Harry appropriated the machines from Oxford's engineering school, which means that they're stuck using whatever they've got rather than whatever might stand the best chance of supporting Coupland's hypothesis. According to Harry, Jane will be hooked up to an EEG machine while they try to trigger a poltergeist event--if the EMF readers show a burst at the same time that the EEG waves go crazy, there's a solid case to be made for some kind of correlation between the two events. Which is actually scientific, and not at all what I expected from a horror movie.
During the first experiment, nothing happens and Jane apologizes, saying she's trying to do whatever it is she can do. Coupland is fed up and bangs his fist on the table, telling his experimental subject that she needs to try harder. Nothing continues to happen, though, and in a scene where Brian is interviewing Professor Coupland for posterity (but not done as a found-footage scene so we can watch Brian's reaction), the professor says there's a chance that everyone involved in the experiment is going to die because they're messing around with incredibly dangerous unknown forces. He quotes Helen Keller about the nature of risk at everyone while serving lunch; the next we see of everyone, Brian is installing iron bars outside Jane's bedroom window and the inside door is being altered to match the one in the original experiment house (locks and bolts on the outside, and a viewing / food port cut into it). Coupland probably isn't getting his deposit back.
I think that Jane's starting to like that Slade track, though. Possibly through the Stockholm syndrome more than anything. Oh, and--as the various experimenters find out--the new building is prone to having pools of shadow in the hallways which means anything could be in there. During a moment of humanity, Brian brings a flower from the fields in for Jane so her room doesn't look so dismal. I'm sure the professor will be thrilled with his lack of proper scientific detachment. For her part, Jane thinks she's a disappointment because she can't produce the impossible on command. She desperately wants a cure for her abilities, but if she doesn't make with the psychokinetic displays before Coupland runs out of money, she's stuck being who she is forever.
Coupland must be feeling the budgetary pinch as well because he's accelerating things. Jane's under sedation with some sort of flashing-light hypnosis facilitator (made from a repurposed record turntable) in front of her while the professor tries to communicate with her subconscious and get it dancing for him. Jane says she's alone while Coupland tells her she isn't alone in that darkness, but when he starts to verbally abuse Jane for her lack of cooperation the EMF reader goes off and something knocks the camera out of Brian's hand. Outside, afterwards, Brian is pressed into service writing a toast for the group to celebrate their success. Everyone drinks to Jane (and Krissi says he must be in love with her; Harry predicts that he'll be bringing her flowers any day now).
In the wake of this first triumph, Krissi shows up to notify Harry that she wants to make love. Harry immediately tells Brian he's on "keep Jane awake" duty and literally carries Krissi off. She's polite enough to say "good night" to Brian before the giggling noises and squeals from behind a closed door start to tease the cameraman with something he doesn't have right now. Apparently he's not the only one who can hear it and is irritated, because the bed broke in Krissi's room--at the start of the festivities, not in the middle. And when Brian opens the viewing port in Jane's room across the hall it turns out she was already there staring out at nothing. She turns away and disrobes, but Brian's too nervous to keep watching. It's the worst possible moment for Professor Coupland to show up, so off course that's what happens.
Brian takes off to polish his camera gear (not a metaphor) and the next day Jane's pulling the hair out of her doll hank by hank. Harry and Krissi try to find out why she's doing that, but Jane's only response is to start pinching her own leg with a bobby pin. The doll's leg has some symbol gouged into it and Jane starts pummeling Krissi while the two guys are distracted looking at it. When Harry pulls her off of his girlfriend Jane attaches herself to Brian like a limpet, telling him that Evey's inside her and he can touch her while fumbling with his belt buckle. Professor Coupland shows up to restore order and gives Brian the stinkeye as the younger man leaves the room. Coupland says that it could be hazardous for Brian to remain on site as long as Jane knows that he's developing feelings for her. Jane--or perhaps Evey--calls him a coward as Brian walks off.
During the next experimental session the EMF readers go insane while Jane is under hypnosis; she also says she's burning in a fire (although Coupland assures her there is no fire there). In a completely ethical move, the professor burns Jane's arm with a candle, but she doesn't react until Brian yells about it (and then screams and goes to tend her injury--the professor yells at "Cameraman" for screwing up his experiment (and threatening to sack him for his actions), but that is certainly a result that has been caught on film.
Later that night Brian hears tapping at his door and tells his visitor that it's not locked. But when he opens the door there's nobody to be found in the hallway. Like sensible people do in horror movies he goes outside in the dark to look around, but doesn't find anybody there either. For that matter, I'm not sure who knows he and the other experimenters are in the house other than the rental agent and maybe the driver for the moving company. When he returns to the house (complete with a slow walk up a dark staircase for maximum suspense) he hears unpleasant noises from the upper storey. He checks in on Jane, whose room is brightly lit so she can't sleep, and doesn't see her in there so he goes inside, to find her covered with her own blood--she's scratched that symbol in her leg and has painted designs and letters on her face and body. Krissi says that it's imperative that Jane see an actual doctor for treatment while Professor Coupland says only cowards run away while at the brink of new discoveries. He also pushes Krissi up against a tree to kiss her, which Brian sees (and then sees that Jane also sees that from her barred window upstairs).
Time for another found-footage interlude--Jane is talking about befriending Evey while taking a bath (the shot starts with Jane looking in the mirror above the sink--that's the second or third time a shot's done that, and I think we're supposed to be thinking of how there's Jane and Evey in her body just as there are two images of her on the screen thanks to the mirror). She teases Brian about whether or not he thinks of her as a woman, since her self-image is that of a little girl. When she rises out of the bath there's a tiny flash of nudity as Brian turns away. He offers to help Jane escape but she doesn't think there's any place she can go. She also says she's got loyalty towards the professor, and after Brian puts the camera she tells him that her life has been full of suffering thanks to frustrated men who want to "touch" her, but decide to make her suffer instead. I imagine the English foster care system of the time had plenty of opportunities for system-manipulating men to get adolescent girls in their homes, which makes Jane someone to be pitied and protected more than feared and shut away. Brian wants to know if Joseph is that kind of man; Jane asks Brian if he is.
It looks like the professor might be--or at least that he's willing to risk Jane's health and well-being during his experiment. There's no other reason why he'd be asking Krissi to double the sedative dose out of the blue. At the following session, Jane turns down the offer of the flickering light display thing and asks everyone to join hands in a circle around the table. Once they do (and a feedback loop or circuit is completed) the EMF detectors flare up for a second. Jane describes a fire everywhere and people burning. She seems to believe that she is--or was--present during the fire and makes some kind of contact with Evey while describing that she--and Evey--are locked into the place that's on fire. And she's persuasive enough or the impressions (memories?) are strong enough that she burns her hands--or heats the Evey doll enough to make it smoke. Either way, there are blisters and burns on her palms and again Professor Coupland says not to involve any doctors. When Krissi shows up with ice, Jane tilts her head back and vomits an ectoplasmic tentacle at the camera (the film breaks away from the first-person shot to show Brian's reaction of shock and concern).
Another triumph for Coupland's theory--he says that what happened is perfectly natural, if currently not understood. Anyone (looking at you here, Brian) who is frightened by it is merely reacting out of ignorance because it's something they don't have a rational frame of reference for. It looks like something out of old fairy tales and campfire stories because that's how it's always been discussed up till now. But once the proper scientific realization sets in it'll be rare but normal manifestations of human psychic abilities.
Speaking of psychic abilities, the professor believes that he can induce Jane to put all of that negative energy that's been manifested into some kind of receptacle. Once it's there, it can presumably be destroyed and Jane will be cured. It's a noble ideal, and I can honestly see why Coupland is so driven. He's been working on this for decades (since the David Q case) and now it looks like triumph, success, new frontiers of knowledge and the ability to go THBBBBBBT at those stuffed shirts back at Oxford for twenty uninterrupted minutes are in his reach. Of course he's going to press further. Brian is the only one who says perhaps a little rest and food for the subject is in order. But after consulting with his three younger assistants Professor Coupland allows himself to be talked into giving Jane a break. So there's some home-movie scenes of people playing cricket, relaxing in the back garden, and the like. I don't remember thinking this the first time I saw the movie, but definitely this time around I was wondering if Jane's up in her locked room again, looking out the window and seeing people in the sunshine and fresh air without being allowed to join them. That turns out not to be the case--in a rare fit of generosity, Coupland lets Jane out of the locked room, and Brian stops by to talk to her (she's also wearing a dress instead of the hospital gown that's the only garment the audience or characters has seen her in so far).
At the next ring around the manifestation table session, Coupland tells Jane that her now bald doll is a place where Evey can be sent. Jane says that she can't find her inner companion; Evey isn't hiding now. She's just lost. Thumping and rapping noises from outside of the room draw people's attention (and Brian has to jump up and grab the camera to try and keep whatever's happening in view). The EMF readers go nuts and Evey refuses to talk (the "knock once for yes, twice for no" code is the only way she's communicated so far). Everyone files out when Evey appears to be in another room upstairs (and Coupland gets irritated at the camera lights in his face while walking off. A closet door opens and something tries to yank the professor inside--he's got some kind of proof of manifestation literally in his hands because something bit him hard enough to break the skin. One wonders if the group has the ability to take a bite-impression cast and see what got him.
Later, Brian is replaying the film of the session when Jane vomited up that ectoplasmic tentacle and sees the film distorted. It looks like nothing so much as flames superimposed on the image, but he's the only one who was filming or developing the material so it's got to be something else. Right? He accuses Krissi and Harry of unwittingly colluding with Coupland to make a hoax that will make them all famous and his own name synonymous with being duped. Krissi takes it pretty badly since it's not as good to be a useful idiot as it is being the assistant to someone who answered a question that's been bugging humanity for a few dozen millenia. Brian's convinced that whatever he's got on film isn't going to hold up to the serious scrutiny that the outside world and scientific community are going to bring to the table. It's when he tries to cut open the doll to see if there was something hidden inside it to burn Jane's hands that the trio of young people hear Jane scream horribly from inside her room. She winds up vomiting blood from the trauma that she's just experienced and Professor Coupland does the most calculated thing he can--he tells Brian that he understands how tough it is to proceed and says that everyone's depending on him. He also says that Jane needs his help for the final phase of the experiment, where Evey will be isolated and neutralized.
The next session involves Jane lying on a metal table, which gets clipped to a generator while a photographic plate is set on top of her. Coupland is taking a Kirlian photograph of Jane and her doll, which is an authentic period detail. Those photos have apparently fallen out of favor among the parapsychology crowd. I'm not sure if they're just considered passe now or if the spate of "it was aliens" people have pushed the "everyone's aura is awesome" people out of the cultural space once occupied by totally boss pictures of leaves with energy traces around them. The professor pointedly refers to it as a "bioelectric energy field" rather than an aura when he's explaining what's what. There are two very different pictures--one is blue with a small field extending from Jane's image and the other is red and it looks like the image is throwing off lightning bolts. The third picture shows an image that might well be Evey's face in the cloud of electricity. Jane is on the edge of tears looking at the picture of Evey, but says that she doesn't want to get rid of her any more. The two men in the frame (Brian and Coupland) tell her that she can't possibly mean what she's saying. Figures.
Jane, back in her room, is talking to the doll and trying to sell the future where she doesn't have Evey in her life to it. Outside, Krissi works up a little negative energy of her own by telling Joseph that she wants to sleep with him and he refuses since everyone's going to need their rest for the last phase of the experiment. Harry notices that Krissi's feeling distant and moody, and tries to see why his girlfriend is down in the dumps. She gives him a list of genuine reasons to be bummed out at an isolated house in the country with no phone service or television, while it's raining, without getting to "the prof didn't want to have sex with me last night". She's also pissed at Jane as the ultimate reason that everyone's stuck there, which doesn't seem completely fair. She accuses the professor--who isn't in the room--of being in love with Jane and wanting to cure her so he can start sleeping with her. All the ethical lapses we've seen from Professor Coupland notwithstanding, I can't say that I agree with Krissi on this one. Neither does Harry, who calls her childish, gets insulted, and stands there as Krissi walks off. She gets a shock and a burn from a metal table when she puts her hand on it and gets flipped into a wall (that's some shock!), but Jane says she was asleep when it happened.
She might well have been out cold, but that just means Evey could have free reign of the premises without Jane's mind suppressing her. Krissi, understandably, is pretty wound up about what Coupland's plan is from here on out. The professor says he's still planning to cure Jane, and that's that. The talks break down when Harry reveals that he knew his girlfriend was sleeping with the professor and Krissi accuses Coupland of sleeping with Jane. Brian, the only one not tangled up in emotions right now, asks the prof why he said it was impossible for Evey to show up while Jane was asleep and the answer turns out to be on the order of "I didn't think that was a thing". Coming from someone who is proving that poltergeists can be summoned on command and measured electronically, I'm not sure that's a good enough reason to make that hypothesis.
That night Harry tries to snuggle up to Krissi and the desk lamp goes out (sounding like the bulb exploded) as soon as he tries to kiss her. Brian rushes to the scene with the camera on his shoulder and gets called upstairs by Professor Coupland, who says that Jane is missing from her room. ("Where's she gone?" "She's missing. If I knew the answer to that she wouldn't be missing, would she?". Fair point, Professor, but you're still a jerk.) Horrible shrieks from the attic mean everyone runs up to see what's up with Jane--Brian's the last one in line up the stairs (which means the camera light is there for everyone to see by) and either Jane or Evey hammers on the door to the attic several times before it creaks open slowly. Everyone winds up bonking around in the unfamiliar attic while the camera light fails to reveal much of anything. In a metaphor for the scientific process as practiced in horror movies, everyone gets in each other's way and startles the hell out of each other while looking for Jane. There's also plenty of weird stuff lying around in the attic (including toys arranged to look like a mural in Jane's room) but there isn't sufficient time or light to figure out what any of it means right now. Eventually they find her, soaked with sweat and standing in the middle of the room. She's confused about everything (including how she got there and why it's dark in the house) but says Evey's there, and finds a scorch mark in the shape of a sleeping child in a crib up in the stored furniture to prove her point. According to Jane, Evey doesn't want to leave the house. When she reaches for the scorch mark, a flame leaps up her arm and sets her nightgown on fire. When that's dealt with, some kind of occult sigil is burnt into her flesh around her stomach. The hits just keep on coming.
Her wound dressed by Krissi, Brian asks the perfectly valid question about what that mark branded on Jane's torso happens to be. Professor Coupland says it's a Satanic sigil and blames his assistants for putting the idea in Jane's mind (which doesn't seem like a possibility based on what we've seen from the in-universe film snippets or the narrative outside of them). Krissi thinks it's at least theoretically possible that the professor has gathered a great deal of data in support of a theory that is incorrect--"Evey" is not a personality born of Jane's subconscious but an actual invasive force from somewhere else. Coupland isn't willing to entertain that possibility for a second and just asks which of the three assistants set that land mine in Jane's psyche (either with or without knowing they were doing it). Coupland tells everyone else (at a volume not quite at the top of his lungs) that they're doing science here and that they need to act more like scientists and less like frightened children. He also shuts down the idea of taking Jane to a hospital for treatment. Again.
Jane herself enters the conversation, asking the professor if it isn't true that they made Evey together. Coupland says that is indeed the case and since they made her, they can remove her from Jane's subconscious and leave her neurotypical in the end. Since he knows he's going to get the answer he wants, he asks Jane if she wishes to stop the experiment and tells all three assistants not to say another syllable of occult bullshit while they're working with him. Harry and Krissi decide that they should go back to the university and start going to all the classes they've neglected since starting the experiment (which makes this the first occult experiment movie I've ever seen where people realize they're screwing up their GPA by voyaging out into the unknown). That leaves Brian and Professor Coupland alone with Jane, and the cameraman asks the experimental subject if she recognizes the symbol that showed up on her body. She doesn't have any memory of it (or much of anything, according to her). But she's got the feeling that things are going to get better if the professor's work bears fruit and gets "Evey" out of her mind completely. She wants to move things forward with Brian, but he says he can't get involved with Jane until she's well.
Now comes the goofy-ass interlude that screws things up for the third act. Brian digs through the professor's files on Jane and finds something that sends him back to Oxford also as well. He wants her to know that he won't be around (and tells the suddenly appearing Professor Coupland that he's off getting more film stock for the project as an excuse). While Brian looks around in the university library, a random dude out of nowhere accosts him and says random unexplainable shit like "killing a young woman is a great way to create a ghost". Without context, it's more like the "You're just like Peter, but you're Steven" character substitution from The Room than anything else.
The "nameless angry dude who probably had more scenes in an earlier cut of the film" also mentions the Quiet Ones, but not who they are or why the movie's named after them. Once he fades out of the film there's a sequence of Brian searching through various occult texts looking for the symbol he saw for a couple of seconds on Jane's stomach and Krissi taking a bath while smoking a cigarette. The symbol winds up leading him to another couple of books, giving him the story about a cult called the Lilitu. It also looks like Professor Coupland was in that group based on a tiny glimpse of one photo in one of the books, but it could just be a coincidence (both the professor and the man in the picture have beards and it's a very brief shot--I assume that if the filmmakers didn't want ambiguity they would have handled that differently). Right around the time Brian's putting two and two together to show that the film is supernatural horror rather than science fiction, the water in Krissi's bathtub starts boiling and she can't get out of the room because the door handle's hot enough to burn her skin. There's also a split-second glimpse of a burned arm reaching for her; that paranormal activity is enough to get Harry and Krissi back at the experiment site to tell Professor Coupland that things have gone quite far enough now, thank you, and it's time to have Jane committed to an institution.
Brian returns while Harry and Krissi are talking to the professor with a sheaf of copied documents from his occult library run and explains that "Evey" looks to be a Sumerian demon worshipped by English occultists in their own little secret society. That symbol from Jane's abdomen is one of the sigils that the Lilitu used in their rites and wore on their robes. The narrative grinds to a halt while Brian provides a ton of back story about the Lilitu and Evey Dwyer, who apparently is a genuine ghost rather than a subconscious projection from Jane. In 1954, the Lilitu were trapped in a building that burned down, and Evey Dwyer was the only survivor. Professor Coupland isn't having any of it and says there's got to be some rational explanation for what's going on. He says it's not possession, its subconscious knowledge that Jane picked up when she was a little kid.
Coupland slaps Jane to try and get her talking; Brian shoves him, gets punched, and is fired (after told that he has to surrender every frame of film that he shot before leaving). Coupland's going to see this through regardless of the cost. Brian says that it's too dangerous for Jane to stay near the professor now that the depths of his obsession are made clear. He wants to get her out of the remote house and to a hospital where there will be some kind of actual treatment for her problems. He also needs to borrow Harry's car for that because he and Jane won't be getting very far on foot. Krissi tosses him the car keys and says it isn't going to help (an actual case of missed signals!).
When Brian sneaks back into the house to liberate Jane, she's playing old footage of an experiment where a child is kept awake via loud music and a viewing port is cut in a bedroom door locked from the outside. And the audience and characters learn that Professor Coupland has been trying to make a poltergeist manifest since the days of doo-wop. Apparently David Q was more a victim of the professor than a subject, but that's not nearly as bad as when David looks to the camera and says "I don't want to do this any more, daddy". If someone's willing to do that to his own son in order to prove his theories, there's no way in hell he's not going to risk someone else's life to make his life's sacrifices look like they mean something. And the prof walks in on everyone watching the footage, then tries to justify himself (with noticeably limited success). He says he can cure Jane, and a fight breaks out between Harry and the professor--the fight gets broken up when everybody in the room gets the Lilitu sigil burned into their flesh as Jane looks from person to person. Krissi tries to run and gets yanked out window, into the air and thrown back into the attic from the outside, tossed around like a ragoll and dies of her injuries; Harry runs after her and gets his neck broken when he's yanked into the doorframe by an unseen hand.
Jane, looking at the information packet that Brian brought back from Oxford, realizes that Evey Dwyer, the girl who died in the fire that killed the Lilitu cultists, didn't really die. She had her identity covered up and was thrown into the foster care system in order to try and give her a normal life, which does not seem to have worked out at all. She's also got that sigil branded inside her upper lip showing that she was cult property from the time she was very, very young. When Brian tries to take her out of the house she has a breakdown and starts strangling him, yelling that she can't be saved (either because she killed two people telekinetically, dozens back when she was five years old, or both). Brian's flesh is starting to smoke by the time Professor Coupland sedates Jane by stabbing her in the back with a hypodermic needle and the prof suckerpunches him to knock him out so he cannot interfere with the next phase of the experiment.
That next phase is killing Evey / Jane and bringing her back by injecting adrenaline into her heart. The professor plans to give her a lethal dose of sedatives while taking Kirlian photos of Evey leaving her body permanently. Brian, tied to a chair, is there to scream at the professor as he tries to finish the experiment. He hulks out enough to get out of his bonds and there's a choppily edited fight between the two men that ends with Brian hoping like hell that he can get Jane's heart started again. He winds up using a gigantic dose of adrenaline with no effect but gets her heart started by pounding on her chest hard enough to break ribs. She wakes up, throws Brian out of the room and locks the door telekinetically and decides that it's time to finish things once and for all, which means setting herself on fire (the flame effects is really mediocre but there's an awesome jump scare right before the final segment of the film; it's Brian in a mental hospital telling everyone there's proof on film of all his insane ramblings and he gets told that everything in that remote house went up in smoke.
The authorities think that Brian killed everyone in the house, and he has no way to prove anything, so it's time for him to demonstrate that the mind unleashed can do strange and fearsome things in a final stinger that doesn't really make any sense, given that the one character in the film with powers was born with them, not gifted with them through trauma.
It's too bad. I actually liked this movie a little bit more the second time thanks to my lower expectations, but the film overall is nothing special. The story doesn't hold together particularly well, the structure means that people leave the experiment house and come back two minutes later on screen, the weird guy in the Oxford library comes out of nowhere and adds nothing but confusion to the proceedings, the mad scientist turns out to have a history that the film fumbles the reveal on, and it's just overall not nearly as good as something I hoped for when I bought my ticket (and DVD). Why can Jane suddenly exercise her powers miles away? I don't have any idea and I suspect the filmmakers never even realized it was a question that someone might raise. It's really too bad. I'm hoping the next one will be better, and that the second Woman in Black movie made enough money that Lionsgate or another distributor will release whatever that movie turns out to be in the States. Unlike the all too human monster in this movie, I've only been burned once.
This review is part of the HubrisWeen roundtable for 2015. Click on that banner up there in order to go to the main page and see what the other reviewers have got cooking for the letter Q.
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