Requiem episode 2 review

Strange things are lurking in the woods in episode 2 of the BBC's ghost story Requiem. Spoilers ahead in our review...

This review contains spoilers.

A bit of cello practice, a watcher in the woods, a dusty room that’s been locked for years: there’s a lot of interesting events happening in this episode of Requiem. But before we get into that, let’s sing the praises of an element that can often get overlooked: an excellent title sequence.

The swirling, kaleidoscopic patterns and effects combined with high-pitched, eerie music reminds me of other series of the past that knew how to build up the suspense and fantastical elements from the start: Tales of the Unexpected, for instance, or The Box of Delights, both of which used to scare me and glue me to the television with their strange, inexplicable figures and instantly recognisable theme tunes. It’s more evidence of how much hard work has been put into the soundscape of Requiem, from the title music to every little sound that accompanies the scarier moments. The shower sequence in particular in this episode uses the drips and squeaks to strong effect, creating an atmosphere of dread.

Did I say shower sequence? Yep – of course, they are classic horror territory, and there’s more than a touch of Psycho to this one as an unseen force toys with the shower curtain. Requiem also uses flickering lights, bricked up windows, gloomy basements, and shots that slowly zoom in through tree branches towards our heroine – but they are all well crafted old friends when it comes to raising suspense levels. So far, I don’t get the feeling that we’re going to tread a lot of new ground in Requiem, but when it uses these familiar tricks, it does it with plenty of style, courtesy of director Mahalia Belo.

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But it’s not all about the thrills and chills. Episode two gives us a few different directions to follow, which means we’re not reliant on the spooky moments alone to pull us in.

Matilda, the cellist searching for answers about her own past, is still the main focus of our attention, and I’m still really enjoying Lydia Wilson’s performance. However, Matilda investigates matters mainly by hanging around in public places and occasionally shouting at people, so the involvement of new and interesting characters is a good move to keep the plot rolling. A police officer called Graves (played by Clare Calbraith) is a particularly welcome addition; Graves is sharp-eyed, can sniff out a mystery, and seems to know everyone in the community. The writing quickly establishes her as a forceful presence, and I’m looking forward to seeing what answers she finds in a narrative that is deftly split between the suspenseful and the scary.

In terms of characterisation generally this is a rich series; there’s also a very involving performance by Claire Rushbrook as Rose, the mother of that long-time missing child. She is obviously hiding her own secrets, and has a great quality of watchful stillness about her outwardly that suggests so much more is raging inside. On the other end of the spectrum this week, unfortunately, was Joel Fry as Hal the accompanist. He didn’t get enough screen time to really make an impression in this episode. Here’s hoping he gets more to do than look lovesick in the future; I’m guessing he will, because Requiem is certainly well written. There are some lovely moments of humour in believable dialogue, and the mysteries are introduced and spun out without ever leaving us confused or disinterested.

Right now, there are a number of strands that I want to know more about, and also some that have been quickly resolved to give us the sense of progress being made. So by the end of this episode Matilda’s watcher in the woods was revealed: Carys’ father (therefore also Matilda’s father, if she really is the missing girl…). He warned her about the presence of ‘The Thin Ones’ and that, along with the strange stick-figure symbol with horns that had begun to appear in strange places, seems to offer a growing supernatural influence on the story.

This all bodes well for Requiem moving on from sound effects and flickering lights to proper diabolical deeds in the dead of night, or in the past, or both. Are we going to be dragged into territory reminiscent of classic British landscape horror? What weird things might still be lurking in the woods, and fiddling with the shower curtains?