An isolated manor, surrounded by clipped yews and enveloped in an eerie soundscape. A man enters the house – a country-gent type chap – and there are more creepy sounds inside. “Hello, who’s here?” he calls out, and peers into the cellar. Then he seems to become possessed and starts smashing mirrors. Is it his own image he can’t face? Next, he leaps off the roof to his death.
Bloody hell, Requiem (BBC1) doesn’t hang about. No gradual crescendo here, it’s straight into full horror, with deferential echoes of films in that genre. You could be forgiven for thinking you’d landed somewhere in The Omen franchise. Echoes of the past, skeletons in closets, loss and bereavement, will all play their part in Requiem.
To London, where Matilda Gray (Lydia Wilson) is breaking through as a cellist, though her personal life is going less well. She is due to take up a prestigious residency in New York but then her mother inexplicably and shockingly also kills herself, in front of her daughter. A knife across the throat in the car park of the Royal Festival Hall this time, blood spattered on brutalist concrete. Two horrifying suicides and we’re not even 15 minutes in.
Guess what: they’re connected. Among her mum’s things, Matilda finds newspaper cuttings about a girl who disappeared in Wales, 20 years earlier. So instead of New York, she goes to Penllynith, and arrives just in time for the funeral of the man who jumped. That’s where the spooky house is, and when Matilda goes inside, it feels familiar …
As does much of Requiem, which is written by Kris Mrksa, who took his cues from Don’t Look Now and Rosemary’s Baby. As well as the cellar and the smashed mirrors, there are things that go bump in the night, a locked room, a banging door, a recurring dream (or is it a memory?). Plus, an insular, suspicious rural community and woods, with birds to come. Homages or cliches: sometimes the line is a blurred one.
It is scary. It might have been scarier still if there were a little more sotto voce between the full-on fortissimo Hammer horror, for the imagination to get to work. The spooky soundscape, commanding those hairs to stand, is also too much. To be fair, it does ease off and allow itself (and us) to take a breath, and the narrative to settle. And then, creeping around the shadowy areas between reality and imagination, memory and dreams, it is more worrying, more powerful, more compelling.
Wilson is captivating, too - platinum, layered, subtler than the piece she is playing. The other star, also haunting and beautiful, is Wales.