A shocking personal trauma sends cellist Matilda Grey and best friend Hal on a journey to unravel a missing child cold case. Along the way Matilda finds herself in a twisted search for her own identity and answers to questions she didn’t know she needed to ask. With classic themes of British horror “Requiem” weaves a complex, supernatural tale of what may hide on the other side of mirrors.
A couple episodes into this series I caught myself thinking “this would probably be really good if her haircut wasn’t so awful”. By the end, however, her haircut was just one of many reasons this is not the best horror/thriller Netflix has offered. There are elements that make “Requiem” a fair time waster, slow binge and not a horrible mess of a show but it never quite lives up to what it seems like it promises.
The story starts with brief introductions to the horrible hair owning, concert cellist main character Matilda Grey (Lydia Wilson), her troubled mother Janice Gray (Joanna Scanlan) and Matilda’s musical partner/friend Hal Fine (Joel Fry). I will quickly note here that the acting is in fact quite good, particularly from later characters in the series and the chemistry between most characters is believable which is one of the few reasons to actually enjoy this atmospheric mess of a show. After the unexpected death of her mother, Matilda finds information connecting her mom and in turn herself to the case of a missing child 15 years previous. In an effort to find some peace and closure Matilda and Hal take a presumably short journey to a tiny Welsh village in an effort to sort out what all of this means.
The trouble is while they are trying to sort out a cold missing child case the viewer is trying to sort out what they are watching – is it a sordid thriller, a haunted house ghost story, a demon fable, a modern day fairytale, a cop drama, something about naked witches in the woods or the tale of a good old-fashioned, devil-worshipping cult? The trouble is that it tries to be all of those things, all of the time plus it wants you to keep up with an assortment of love interests, emotional family entanglements and a more than necessary amount of mysteries within mysteries. And to top it all off, for some reason the series tries really hard to make scrying a thing, it’s really not an interesting enough premise to be a thing, sorry “Requiem”.
I said at the beginning that the series is not a horrible mess, and it’s not horrible, but it is a mess. I did get caught up in the central idea of the story which is the who, how, what, where and why of a missing child, focusing on that is what made me stick with the series through to the end. There are some excellently portrayed characters as well, such as the missing child’s mother Rose Morgan (Claire Rushbrook) and the innkeeper’s daughter turned ally Trudy (Sian Reese-Williams) who kept me hooked in the story and interested in their outcomes. We are briefly treated to a scene with a young Matilda who is portrayed by Bella Ramsey (best known for her role as the immoveable Lyanna Mormont in “Game of Thrones”). There are some wonderful creepy elements and a good deal of classic British horror atmosphere, it often feels like you are watching a visual interpretation of those gothic Victorian-era romance novels in which unassuming, lovely, young women are sent to live in scary old houses on forgotten moors.
Music is supposed to be a major element of the story – Matilda and Hal are successful classical musicians, a dodgy CD plays a part in the first shocking incident, strange chants in children’s voices are found in recordings which haunt most of the series, the whole thing is called “Requiem” after all, and yet…everything fails to make the musical impact that it could. There is an almost silly, musically set montage of misery right in the middle of the series, where you are given some important information to the story but there is a bigger dose of cringe-worthy melodrama than you can take in one sitting. I think that this moment was supposed to read almost like the playing of a piece of classical music but again it falls short of actually getting us to see or feel that. As someone who grew up in a musical family and surrounded by musicians of all sorts the one thing the series got right was the character of Hal, I had no problem believing he was a musician caught up in something above and beyond the ordinary (as it turns out the actor playing Hal is, in fact, a member of the band Animal Circus). There was an opportunity to actually create a soul-stirring requiem out of this story and never once does it feel like that was even a consideration.
After a bumpy ride through every horror element short of vampires and werewolves, the ending is sadly predictable. You are taken down several tantalizing roads that have the potential to create an exciting supernatural tale, but those roads always end in a bad accident and flesh-eating somnambulists with no closure. The slapdash cult-themed moment that ties everything together (and for some reason takes the oddly placed chance to try for some dry humor) is way too rushed and ends up being a major let down for what is supposed to be the fantastical crescendo. Everything that happens in the last 10 minutes or so will not be at all surprising, there is no great twist that will leave you stunned or even baffled.
Stripped to its bare bones “Requiem” had the potential to be a great British horror story, but it tries too hard, way too hard. I feel like it would have been better to have the story play out over several seasons – where we could have the haunted house season, the cop drama season, the demon season (though I fear we would be forced to have a scrying season which would kill the whole thing) and so on. Instead, we are force-fed all of it in one 6 episode go, missing the chance to savor the creep, get lost in the music or bond with enjoyable characters. There has been no decision, as of this writing, about whether there will be a Season 2, and no personal decision as to whether I would watch a Season 2 (I’m saying a tentative “yes” providing Matilda gets a better, far less distracting haircut). If you want to give “Requiem” a try all six episodes are available in Netflix in the US.