Jake Young reviews Mahalia Belo’s Requiem horror series, a mild thrill with extraordinary cinematography and style.
Rising cello star Matilda (Lydia Wilson) is left heartbroken and bewildered when her mother mysteriously commits suicide. Matilda is left with puzzling unanswered questions and finds a box in her mother’s room, left as though it was meant for her to find. Inside she finds a catalogue of photos and newspaper clippings relating too a missing persons case from 23 years ago in Wales. So begins a quest to find answers – why did her mother have these photos and did they have something to do with her suicide? Matilda travels to Wales but instead of answers finds an archaic weighed down with secrets.
Requiem takes its influences from numerous places but most notable and prominent is that of 70s and early 80s horror, films such as Rosemary’s Baby and Poltergeist, as well as a range of British horror movies of that period. Part supernatural thriller, part psychological horror, Requiem balances realist sympathetic drama with the dark unknown. It captures this narrative through the cinematography chillingly well, stark blues, deep blacks and candlelit glows paint ambient scenes. The camera work also evokes a documentary style at times, shaky cams and plenty of eye-level shooting.
The real hidden gem of Requiem is its setting; the town lined with cobbled grey stone buildings contrasting against the dimmed green woods and lush fields, make for an almost Transylvanian feel. Much of the drama takes place in an old manor house, out of the way from town, complete with mysterious cellar; it makes for an evocative setting.
As our interlopers enter the many areas of town, they are greeted by shifty gazes and unsettling glares, they are sheep among wolves, and here be recollections of An American Werewolf in London with its cultish personalities in the Slaughtered Lamb Inn. Despite the good use of this ominous feelings the shows opening episodes rely too heavily upon horror tropes and cheap jump scares in place of gripping drama and story. Character development is very much on the back burner with only Matilda being a person of interest.
In truth, development of all other characters is very much put to one side in Requiem – the narrative is at the forefront of the show’s agenda. In the initial episodes, the narrative is told in some surprisingly clever ways, most notably with innovative camera work, highlighting a pursuit of cinematic style in television. The use of framing helps build character – Matilde’s isolation, for instance. However, the visual flair is not enough, and ultimately does very little to distract from the blindingly obvious under development of characters. Matilda’s friend Hal (Joel Fry) is given very little to do and very little to work with, falling into overdone and tired story arcs of neglected love between two friends. The same of which can be said for most other characters, blending into the background and failing to produce any real impact or distinctive features.
Requiem in part offers a character drama without much attention to character, bogged down in flash and flair for its distinctive horror-inspired setting. It can make for a tense experience but it fails to connect as anything other than a mild thrill ride.
Requiem is available now to watch on BBC iPlayer.